Amherst seeks public input on Fort River building committee makeup

  • Fort River Elementary School —AMHERST PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Published: 6/21/2017 9:09:48 PM

AMHERST — To give more time for community input and public hearings this fall, the Amherst School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to delay a decision on the composition of a new school building committee for the Fort River School site on South East Street.

Tuesday’s decision, as well as a discussion about how to move forward on addressing infrastructure woes at Wildwood School, comes after three failed votes to authorize borrowing for a $66.37 million project that would have co-located two new elementary schools at the Wildwood site on Strong Street.

Town Meeting voted in May to borrow $250,000 for the first phase of a feasibility study on the Fort River site, and 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 Wildwood project.

School Committee members said they have received significant feedback from the public about what the new Fort River building committee should look like, and that those opinions varied widely. Given that differing feedback, the School Committee expects to hold public hearings on the new committee’s composition during the weeks of Aug. 7 and Sept. 11, with follow-up meetings by the School Committee on Sept. 19 and 25.

“There really are a lot of different angles on this,” committee Chairwoman Phoebe Hazzard said. “I think that to engender the kind of community support that we need, we need to do more community engagement.”

School Committee member Eric Nakajima said the delay — though School Committee members were loath to use that word — will mean more buy-in from parents and community members, and will allow the superintendent more time to work with the School Committee to flesh out the rest of the process.

“I feel that feeling a sense of urgency that we have to make some decisions now, even if none of us are fully comfortable with the decision we are making, is a foolish desire for speed,” Nakajima said.

As part of a 2014 statewide survey of educators, 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 Crocker Farm.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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