Chinese charter school planning for a second campus in Hadley

300 Venture Way in Amherst. 02-21-2024

300 Venture Way in Amherst. 02-21-2024 STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-21-2024 3:24 PM

Modified: 02-21-2024 6:35 PM


HADLEY — A Venture Way office building is being envisioned as a second campus for the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

Executive Director Richard Alcorn told the Planning Board Tuesday that the school has a purchase-and-sale agreement with Pearson Assessments to acquire the 80,000-square foot, two-story building at 300 Venture Way, located in the professional park off North Maple Street. The building sits on a roughly 15-acre site.

The current thinking, Alcorn said, is that 10,000 square feet on the first floor of the building would be leased back to Pearson for its use, while the upper floor would be classroom space for the middle or high school in fall 2024, with about 180 students being taught there.

But there is growth potential for the school at the site that would supplement its main 317 Russell St. campus, where the school has been since 2008 after taking over space from Kidsports and then undertaking an expansion project. The new site could possibly have a preschool on the first floor, and conversion of a storage building into a gymnasium, Alcorn said.

PVCICS currently enrolls around 560 students in grades K-12 from nearly 30 communities in the Pioneer Valley, according to its website.

Alcorn said the current timeline is to secure financing for the purchase in March and then close on the property in April, at which time renovations can begin to have classrooms and other school amenities ready for September.

Part of the consideration for buying the property, Alcorn said, is the limited parking at the Route 9 site, a growing problem for students, families and staff who have been informed that overflow parking can no longer be accommodated at the neighboring Mountain Farms Mall.

Planners told Alcorn that the school is exempt from most town zoning due to its educational use, but that dividing the campus makes sense, due to the state highway congestion both early in the morning and later in the afternoon with arrivals and departures from the school.

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“I think it’s a good move on your part to alleviate traffic off Route 9,” said Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski.

Still, he said planners would want to see a professional study done on the traffic impacts the move might have on North Maple Street and nearby residential roads.

“This could affect the neighborhood quite a bit,” said board member Michael Sarsynski.

Board member Joseph Zgrodnik agreed that the school’s plans need more scrutiny, if possible, observing that its current four-story building has prompted concerns from the Fire Department about accessing the upper levels in case of an emergency.

Pearson, which moved to Venture Way from Amherst in 2002, when it was still known as National Evaluation Systems, has been looking to reduce its building footprint in recent years, submitting the property, for a $20 million sale price, in response to the town of Amherst’s 2021 search for a site to build a new Department of Public Works. Amherst officials didn’t pursue that option for a DPW location.

The 300 Venture Way building is also connected to 400 Venture Way via an overhead walkway following an earlier expansion by Pearson. In 2018, that neighboring building was sold to the University of Massachusetts Building Authority and is now used by the Information Technology department at UMass.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.