Amherst elementary schools denied requests for state funding to fix aging buildings

  • Fort River Elementary School

Staff Writer
Published: 12/12/2018 5:49:47 PM

AMHERST — Fort River Elementary School and Wildwood Elementary were denied funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), according to a Dec. 12 letter sent from the authority to the Amherst town manager.

The two schools submitted statements of interest to the authority last spring as part of the authority’s 2018 program for construction, renovation and repairs grants. Just two years ago, the schools came close to being replaced, but the plan was eventually rejected.

MSBA received 70 statements of interest from 56 districts this year, according to its letter, and after considering all applications, Amherst schools will not move forward in the process.

“I’m definitely disappointed — we were hoping for better news,” said Michael Morris, superintendent of Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools.

“I wasn’t completely surprised,” said Anastasia Ordonez, chair of the Amherst School Committee. She pointed out that the district was competing against many others for resources.

“Infrastructure problems are not unique to Amherst … there’s a lot of need out there,” she said.

Still, both schools were built in the 1970s and face a host of problems.

Both statements of interest describe concerns, including ventilation issues, mold and bathrooms that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Roofs in both buildings are leaking, the statements said.

“The roofing on all the buildings is literally falling apart,” Ordonez said.

There is also a variety of security and emergency system issues, such as doors that do not totally close and parts of the Fort River fire alarm system that are not up to fire code, according to the statements.

In 2016, MSBA agreed to give the district $34 million toward the a $66.37 million project that would have replaced the buildings and put them both on the Wildwood site. Though a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override vote approved the project, funding ultimately was not approved by Town Meeting, and a town-wide vote that could have overturned the Town Meeting vote failed.

Districts are able to reapply in early 2019. Amherst School Committee is expected to discuss the recent MSBA letter at their meeting on Tuesday, Ordonez said.

Morris said the the MSBA encouraged the district to apply again in 2019.

“The reality is,” Ordonez said, “that without state aid, it would be difficult to get these schools built.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com




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