Smith Vocational needs $750K to advance new horticulture building

Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School student Violet Geoffrion makes wreaths with other students in the  half of the horticultural building not lost to fire last year. The school is looking to raise the remaining $750,000 of a $6.7 million project to construct a new building. Back left is Trent Bush, Sam Jenkins and Shelby Frey.

Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School student Violet Geoffrion makes wreaths with other students in the half of the horticultural building not lost to fire last year. The school is looking to raise the remaining $750,000 of a $6.7 million project to construct a new building. Back left is Trent Bush, Sam Jenkins and Shelby Frey. STAFF PHOTOS / CAROL LOLLIS

James Anspach, an instructor in the Horticultural Department at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, watches as Sam Ryan, a student, cuts a dead tree on campus.

James Anspach, an instructor in the Horticultural Department at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, watches as Sam Ryan, a student, cuts a dead tree on campus. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School student Violet Geoffrion makes wreaths with other students in half of the horticultural building not lost to fire last year. The school is looking to raise the remaining $750,000 of a $6.7 million project to construct a new building. In the background are students  Sam Jenkins and Shelby Frey.

Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School student Violet Geoffrion makes wreaths with other students in half of the horticultural building not lost to fire last year. The school is looking to raise the remaining $750,000 of a $6.7 million project to construct a new building. In the background are students Sam Jenkins and Shelby Frey. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Mark Nevin, head of the Horticultural Department and instructor at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, stands in  half of the horticultural building that destroyed by fire last year and talks about what was lost and where the new building will go.

Mark Nevin, head of the Horticultural Department and instructor at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, stands in half of the horticultural building that destroyed by fire last year and talks about what was lost and where the new building will go. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 12-05-2023 1:25 PM

Modified: 12-05-2023 4:04 PM


NORTHAMPTON — With nearly $6 million already in hand to rebuild a horticulture building destroyed by fire 18 months ago, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School recently launched a campaign to raise the remaining $750,000 needed to move the project forward.

According to a letter distributed by Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker, most of the necessary $6.7 million to build a new structure has been secured through insurance settlements, Capital Skills Grants from the state, and an amendment to the Massachusetts Economic Bond Bill by state Sen. Jo Comerford. But the school is still short of meeting the monetary goal for the project.

Linkehoker noted that as a vocational school, Smith Vocational does not have the same financial support as regional school districts and that students come from a variety of communities across western Massachusetts. The school is responsible for its own budget and policy procedures, with a board of trustees elected by residents of Northampton.

“As we work through rebuilding our Horticulture Building, our unique governance model and financial constraints have set many hurdles in our way towards construction,” Linkenhoker wrote. “We have been forced to downsize the new design and continue to use the portion of the building that was not damaged during the fire. But to make this new approach sustainable for the next several years we will need to upgrade aspects of the original building while maintaining our  long-term vision of expanding the entire agricultural program offerings to our students.”

The previous horticulture building, which housed the school’s forestry education program, burned down in May 2022 after a riding mower’s exhaust came into contact with combustible materials. The school elected to demolish what remained after the fire and build a new building in its stead.

The Capital Skills Grants from the state total more than $4 million to help with both construction of the new building and to pay for new equipment that will allow for additions to the program. The school also received $275,000 via the economic bond bill.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Restaurateurs opening 2 businesses in Amherst face nearly $500K for violations at Eastern Mass. restaurants
Hadley considering removing deck from deteriorating and unused Dwyer’s Bridge
State ruling bottles up liquor license for Iron Horse revival in Northampton
Debate over cease-fire in Gaza heats up as four communities consider resolutions
UMass basketball: Winners of three of their last four, Minutemen look to keep momentum going against St. Bonaventure
High school basketball: Trio of local teams seek Western Mass titles on Championship Saturday

Trustee Rick Aquadro said the school did not want to seek additional state or city funding, as it wanted to save those requests for another building which hosts the school’s carpentry program and was built in the 1950s. He also said the donations needed by the school may end up exceeding $750,000.

“I think we may need more than that, but it’s a start,” he said. “Right now we’re focusing on getting the word out.”

Currently, the school has received around $190,000 in donations, including a $150,000 donation from Smith College.

Though originally planned to be completed by the start of the fall semester for 2024, Linkenhoker told the Gazette that due to the issues coming up with the total costs, the new horticulture building is likely to be completed by summer of 2025. The new building will be roughly 8,000 square feet, lower than what was originally planned.

“We’re planning on reusing a portion of the older building that was not damaged from the fire,” Linkenhoker said. “But someday down the road, we’d like to expand the new building.”

Once completed, the new building will contain new equipment and a more sustainable design plan such as improved insulation infrastructure.

Much of the new equipment the grant is expected to pay for will also go toward horticulture, such as a compact utility tractor, log splitters and leaf blowers. It also includes equipment for advanced manufacturing, such as a tool presetter and a saw surface grinder.

Linkenhoker said some that equipment will replace some of the old equipment lost in the fire, but others are meant to be new additions to the program.

Anyone looking to make a donation for the building may do so by writing a check made out to “Friends of the Farm” and mailed to Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, 80 Locust St., Northampton, MA 01060. The Friends of the Farm is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, allowing all donations to be tax deductible.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.