Holyoke voters reject middle schools project  

  • William R. Peck Full Service Community School in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Jacob Rosa, Makenzie Rodriguez, and Samalia Moya, fifth graders at William R. Peck Full Service Community School in Holyoke, work in Gisela Costas’ class where the windows do not open. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A rendering by Jones Whitsett Architects of a new middle school proposed on the site of William R. Peck Middle School in Holyoke. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Holyoke City Clerk Brenna Murphy McGee, left, announces election results with the help of Assistant City Clerk Irma Cruz, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 at City Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Holyoke Ward 3 City Councilor David Bartley, who was reelected, speaks during a party for opponents of the Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override to build two middle schools during a party at Pic’s Pub and Pizzeria on Hampden Street Tuesday night. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Devin Sheehan, left, a Holyoke School Committee member who was chair of the School Building Committee, speaks during a party for supporters of the Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override to build two middle schools on Tuesday at City Sports Bar & Lounge on High Street.  STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Opponents of the Holyoke Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override to build two middle schools listen to Ward 3 City Councilor David Bartley speak during a party at Pic’s Pub and Pizzeria on Hampden Street, Tuesday night.  STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/5/2019 9:44:33 PM

HOLYOKE — By a wide margin, voters in Holyoke rejected a ballot question asking for a debt-exclusion override to build two new middle schools.

The “no” votes spoke loudly with 4,872 votes to 2,694. The project, totaling approximately $130 million, was set to receive $75.8 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, or MSBA, with the city to cover the remaining $54 million through the Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override. With the “no” side prevailing, the city will now have to decline that MSBA funding.

The ballot question received the largest opposition in Ward 3, where 1,022 voters cast a “no” ballot — 73 percent of the total votes in that ward. Ward 5 also saw significant opposition to the question, with 1,288 “no” votes out of the 1,683 total votes — a total of 76.5 percent.

The largest support for the project was in Ward 1, where 274 voters — 58.5 percent of the votes in the ward —were in favor of building the schools.

Opponents of the middle schools project raised concerns over the tax increase it would require of homeowners and businesses and said there are better ways to spend money and improve the schools.

Kevin Jourdain, the former City Council president and a leader of the “no” campaign, said in a statement that the vote was an “overwhelming victory for the people of Holyoke.”

“This victory sends a powerful message to Boston that they run our schools and they need to provide the money Holyoke’s children deserve,” he said, referring to the fact that Holyoke’s schools are in state receivership. “We look forward to a new inclusive process that protects Holyoke renters, homeowners and businesses. A process that improves our schools and also addresses all the needs of our city on a budget our city can actually afford.”

The “no” campaign held a victory party at Pic's Pub & Pizzeria on Hampden Street, where a jubilant crowd cheered the failure of the ballot question.

“‘No’ was for the way it was set up, not against the schools and not against the kids,” City Councilor David Bartley told the Gazette.

Bartley’s speech seemed to stir the crowd. He railed against Mayor Alex Morse and the city’s state Rep. Aaron Vega — both backers of the middle schools project — as the crowd booed them and one attendee loudly yelled that they should be thrown “in the canal.”

“I applaud you all for being here,” Bartley said to end his speech.

Next to the microphone was Keith Davis, a member of the “no” campaign. 

He held one of the group’s “Keep Holyoke Affordable for All” signs and praised those who had helped with the campaign’s messaging. He thanked Jourdain in particular, who noted from the audience that City Council candidate Howard Greaney — an opponent of the schools project — was the only non-incumbent to win an at-large seat.

Also in the crowd was City Councilor Linda Vacon, who handily won reelection in Ward 5. She said the city’s voters spoke clearly by voting “no.”

“They want us to go back and work with a broader coalition to come up with a better, more affordable plan,” she said.

Those in favor of the project, which was years in the making, said that building the new schools would be a much-needed investment in the schools, the city and its students. They argued that building the schools would save money in the long run and that they would bring in new investments and families to the district.

Supporters gathered at City Sports Bar & Lounge on High Street. The diverse crowd waited as the results came in, dispersing disappointedly after learning of their wide margin of defeat.

Israel Rivera, a candidate for an at-large City Council seat who finished seventh, said the big question now needs to be answered by the “no” campaign: “what is the ‘better way?’”

“It’s a travesty because education should come first in this community,” he said. “And we technically just told the kids, the people in the community, that that’s not the case right now.”

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


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