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Editorial: Clarke plans respect history

Hubbard Hall.

CAROL LOLLIS Hubbard Hall. Purchase photo reprints »

Two years after the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech announced a major downsizing and shift in direction, the redevelopment of the campus in the center of Northampton is underway.

Clarke Schools and developer Opal Real Estate Group have done a good job of keeping the community and its neighbors informed of the changes for the campus, and we hope this spirit of cooperation continues.

The Planning Board has approved Opal Real Estate Group’s site plan for the property, a mixed-use development that calls for commercial space on the west side of Round Hill Road and luxury apartments on the east side.

Existing buildings will be renovated; there will be no new construction. Public access to open space will be maintained. The 38 apartments planned are half the number contained in the original proposal. An historic preservation restriction aims to keep the look of the 10 historic buildings on the 11-acre campus intact.

Clarke Schools will keep a small portion of land that includes Bell Hall, where it will consolidate a majority of its programs and administrative offices. The redevelopment is following a schedule set by Clarke’s leaders several years ago in recognition of the school’s changing mission.

Clarke was established in 1867 to help hearing-impaired children develop language skills as naturally as possible. The campus was built for a large residential population and served children and their families from all over the world.

Clarke is now adapting to changes in hearing technologies and the field of oral-deaf education. As Clarke works with more students in their homes and neighborhood schools, many of the campus buildings are no longer needed.

Round Hill Road goes through the Clarke campus. It and the streets surrounding Clarke create a long-established residential neighborhood. The challenge Opal and the city face is managing development in a way that maintains the look and feel or the neighborhood.

Right now the plan, called Historic Round Hill Summit, shows four buildings on the west side of the campus to house a mix of professional and medical offices. Opal estimates that 80 percent of the space in the buildings will be leased to professional office tenants, with the remaining 20 percent going to medical or dental office users.

On the east campus, Opal will convert Hubbard and Rogers halls into 38 luxury apartment units.

Neighbors concerned about how the development will impact the quality of life have focused on traffic up and down the narrow Round Hill Road, which runs from Elm Street through the campus to Prospect Street. To that end Opal is pledging $103,000 to fund traffic mitigation in the area. Details are still being worked out, and Clarke neighbors should be involved in shaping a final plan.

So far, the project is moving along in a way that respects the history of the property, the integrity of the neighborhood and the broad interests of the community. It is important that it continue in that vein.

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