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Human services agency eyes former North Amherst school as Head Start prepares to move out

AMHERST — As the Head Start program departs its site at the former North Amherst school, a local human services agency may move into the 1200 North Pleasant St. building.

Town Manager John Musante told the Select Board Monday that Head Start, which has been based on the upper level of the building for several years, will be merged with another program at the childcare center near Wildwood School on Strong Street.

“That is sad to see, but it’s also an opportunity to repurpose that space,” Musante said.

Musante said he is talking with staff and human services agencies about entering into a short-term lease agreement as early as September.

While he wouldn’t identify the agency because no agreement is in place yet, Musante said the agency could complement the ongoing revisioning of North Amherst center.

Musante said human services is an appropriate use for the building given its location and the configuration of the property, which has limited parking.

“Having a high people use on every square foot of that building doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Musante said.

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said she appreciates that any lease allows the town to keep options open for the property.

The move of Head Start comes several months after the Amherst Survival Center left the basement in the building for its new site at 138 Sunderland Road, which opened in December. The basement of the North Amherst school is now being used for storage of municipal documents.

Musante said Head Start’s impending move was prompted by the federal budget sequestration, which has affected funding for Head Start nationally and forced it to close and streamline other sites.

“They are in the midst of some strategic and fundamental change in Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties, where they are reorganizing their work,” Musante said.

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