Amherst to hold first listening session on Fort River committee

By DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

@dustyc123

Published: 08-03-2017 10:49 AM

AMHERST — The first of two listening sessions on the composition of a school building committee for the Fort River site will occur next Tuesday.

In May, Town Meeting appropriated $250,000 for a feasibility study that is to include an in-depth examination of the property, preliminary schematic designs, creation of a community engagement plan and establishment of a school building committee.

The first session will be held by the Amherst School Committee at 6 p.m. in Amherst Town Hall’s Town Room. The second will take place on Thursday, Sept. 14, at 6 p.m., at a location to be announced later. The sessions are meant to give residents a chance to learn about the committee’s role and to provide the opportunity for input on the process and the committee’s composition.

“We’re really open to listening to people’s ideas about who they feel would best serve on this committee in order to accomplish our goals,” Amherst School Committee Chairwoman Phoebe Hazzard told the Gazette.

Hazzard said the first part of the sessions will inform attendees about what the committee is and what its goals are. From there, the public will be allowed to comment on who they think its members should be.

The listening sessions come after three failed votes to authorize borrowing for a $66.37 million project that would have co-located two new elementary schools at the site of the Wildwood Elementary School on Strong Street.

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Interim Superintendent Michael Morris has laid out seven potential scenarios for renovating or rebuilding Fort River and Wildwood — all more expensive and time-consuming than the rejected Wildwood project.

In a 2014 statewide survey of educators that asked teachers to evaluate their schools, only 24 percent of Wildwood teachers and 9 percent of Fort River teachers agreed with the statement that “the physical environment of classrooms in this school supports teaching and learning,” compared with 93 percent of teachers at Amherst’s third public elementary school, Crocker Farm Elementary.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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