Councilors Dan Carey, Daniel Rist and Owen Zaret: Easthampton councilors support new school 

  • Judy Averill, the principal at Maple Elementary School in Easthampton, stands outside the school that was built in 1896. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Monday, May 14, 2018

On May 22, Easthampton voters will go to the polls and on the ballot will be just one question.

A “yes” vote will allow the city to go forward with a plan to replace three elementary schools and one middle school with a brand new pre-kindergarten to Grade 8 building. We support this new school building project because it’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do and it’s the time to do it.

Right thing to do

It’s the right thing to do for the children and the grandchildren of the citizens of Easthampton. All three of our elementary schools are over 100 years old. Maple School was built in 1896. Center School was built in 1902. Pepin School was built in 1912. These buildings are not just old, they are beat up and they are broken down.

None of these schools meet current standards for teaching and learning. None comply with current safety expectations or building codes. Two of these schools are not handicapped accessible.

Two do not have cafeterias and two do not have gymnasiums. They all lack adequate parking. Not one has appropriate outdoor areas for playing or for learning.

White Brook Middle School was built in 1972. It is the newest of the four schools but it was poorly constructed and it is arguably in the worst condition of all four of these schools. Not only are the building systems failing, but it is the largest consumer of electricity in the city.

White Brook’s open classroom design provides a poor educational environment. Its multiple classrooms side by side without walls result in constant interruptions and no quiet spaces.

Smart thing to do

It’s the smart thing to do for the future of our city. Easthampton is losing over $2 million annually to school choice and charter. We know that a major reason families choose to leave our district is because of our old buildings.

We have seen the number of students leaving decline since the high school opened, and we can continue this trend with a new pre-kindergarten to Grade 8 building. A new school building will make us many parents’ first choice.

Easthampton is spending a lot of money to maintain these old buildings, including emergency repairs year after year. This past winter, an unexpected equipment malfunction left a building without heat. The damaged equipment was so old that special parts had to be made and classes had to be canceled.

It will cost much less to operate one new building rather than four old buildings. A new school building will save us money in the long run.

The security of all four of these buildings is currently outdated and inadequate. A new school will enhance security for our children. It will have modern security features to protect all our students. Response from public safety officials will be quicker and more efficient since we do not have to protect four schools but only one. A new school is a safer school.

Time to do it

It’s the time to do it because the state will pay for about half of this project. We do not know when, or if, the Massachusetts School Building Authority will accept us into their reimbursement program again. Construction costs are always rising and putting this project off will certainly cause the price to increase.

The cost of repairing our four outdated schools is estimated to be more than the cost of this new school building — and that repair cost would most likely include no reimbursement from the state.

Easthampton has had opportunities to replace these schools in the past but they came and went with no action. We simply cannot keep ignoring the problem.

The new school will provide all our students with access to appropriate learning spaces and resources. We will be able to better support our students with special needs. We will be able to provide a 21st-century education to every student from pre-kindergarten through high school. Ample green spaces will be available for recess, physical education, gardens and outdoor learning.

The Easthampton City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of the new school building project. All nine councilors pledged to help residents understand the impact of this project. As such, we encourage you to visit epsd.us or buildingeasthamptonsfuture.org for more information.

Please help us spread the word by talking with your family, friends and neighbors. And please join us in voting “yes” on May 22.

It’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do and it’s the time to do it.

Dan Carey, Daniel Rist and Owen Zaret are Easthampton city councilors. Carey and Zaret are members of the Committee for Building Easthampton’s Future, the group campaigning for the new school. Carey is also a member of the Easthampton School Building Committee and a former member of the Easthampton School Committee. Rist has been on the City Council for 21 years and chairs the finance and CPA committees. Zaret wrote the resolution in support of the new school which was unanimously approved March 7.