First wave of students are wowed by new Easthampton school

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 01-08-2022 9:33 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The morning announcement may have indicated that it was school day 75, but when middle school students returned from their holiday break on Wednesday morning, many admitted that it felt more like the first day of school. And students weren’t alone in that feeling.

“It’s going to feel like the first day of school all over again, so no worries. I feel the same way,” sixth grade teacher Donna Barcomb said as she ushered her students into the brand new Mountain View School building.

Fifth through eighth grade students were welcomed into the 176,155-square-foot building past a line of their teachers, administrators and members of the PTO as well as several of the city’s first responders. As the 425 masked middle schoolers entered Mountain View’s entryway, they could be seen cheering as they spotted their friends and their homeroom teachers, who held up name placards above the crowd. Each homeroom teacher then ushered their class down the hallways to the new classrooms. Along the way, students looked left and right, taking in each detail — from the paint color choice to the water bubblers.

When Barcomb’s homeroom students sat at their new desks, which are now equipped with hooks on either side to accommodate backpacks, she encouraged her class to talk about the new building, the location of their classes, and how it would affect their new schedules. Wiggling back and forth at his new desk chair, sixth grader Landon Dickinson remarked at how comfortable his seat was.

Barcomb also highlighted the functional  thermostat in the classroom.

“You won’t have to worry about being cold. This is a climate-controlled classroom. I have a thermostat right here. Isn’t it lovely? We won’t be cold or extra hot,” she said.

A number of students were all focused on something they’d never experienced before: lockers.

“When I was in fourth grade, I was super excited to have lockers in fifth grade, I don’t know why, but we didn’t get that,” said sixth grader Hayden Donovan. “So, I’m pretty excited.”

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One after another, students asked when they could see them, choose one, and if they were allowed to decorate them.

“We have very specific instructions about things. You cannot tape anything, it has to be all magnetic. Everything in here is magnetic,” said Barcomb, motioning around her classroom. “Those two white boards are magnetic. This whiteboard is magnetic. That entire back wall is magnetic. We cannot use tape or anything at all.”

Shortly after, Barcomb took her sixth graders on a tour of the building, which will eventually house all students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and consolidate Easthampton’s three elementary schools, Maple, Center and Pepin, with White Brook Middle School, which will be demolished. At this point, the last two elementary wings of the Mountain View School building that will house pre-kindergarten through fourth grade have been sectioned off so that workers can complete their classrooms.

Audible “wows” erupted as students entered into one of their two gym spaces, which features a new basketball court and stadium-style benches. Many even spun around as they took in the space.

“I’m excited about the gym because it’s so big,” said sixth grader Nola Roos.

Similar responses rippled through the line of students as they toured the new music and band room, equipped with acoustic panels.

Jeff Cross, who serves as a paraprofessional in Barcomb’s classroom several days a week, said he was impressed by the new building. From 1975 to 1996, Cross taught fifth graders at White Brook before assuming the role of principal in Ware. He retired in 2008, but returned to substitute teaching and a paraprofessional role back where he started, in Easthampton.

“White Brook was state-of-the-art at the time,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.”

Rosemary Mason, who has worked as an administrative assistant with White Brook for the past decade, was in sixth grade when White Brook opened. Mason said she favored all the specialty classrooms and exploratory offerings, including cooking, pottery, sewing and the swimming pool.

“I remember the fold-out walls. I remember how they put two classrooms together by removing a wall,” she said. “And now, wow. It’s a change. It’s a little sad because I went to school at White Brook and ended up working there, but I do love the view, the windows and light (of this building).”

Construction during a pandemic

Construction of the $109 million project began in January 2020. Now that middle school students, staff and administrators have transitioned out of White Brook Middle School, which is situated on the same Park Street property as the new school, next steps include demolition of the White Brook building, said Bertram “Bert” W. Gardner IV, project architect from Chicopee-based Caolo & Bieniek Associates Inc.

Originally, a “closing house” was scheduled in December to allow members of the community to bid farewell and share memories of White Brook Middle School’s 46-year history, but plans were canceled after a surge of positive cases of COVID-19 and the event will not be rescheduled.

“As far as changes, there have been several along the way, which is common with any construction project. In general, changes have been the result of the pandemic and concealed conditions discovered through the course of the work, but also include a number of owner-requested enhancements and a handful of coordination items,” Gardner said. “The total of all changes to date is just at 2% of the original contract price and well within the budgeted contingencies, so this project remains on time and on budget.”

Along the way, there have been some COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges, Gardner said. Although it didn’t affect the schedule significantly, the project’s general contractor, Springfield-based Fontaine Bros. Inc., had to significantly increase cleaning/sanitation protocols. Gardner also noted a slight delay in a handful of materials, including brick, specialty glass and specialty entrance frames.

“The timing of the project, in general, allowed us to escape the bigger delays people are seeing today and we were fortunate that the materials which were delayed on the school project did not impact the overall completion date for the school,” he said. “As for manpower, there have been a handful of challenges there as well, but the general contractor has done a good job managing this so that the opening wouldn’t be delayed.”

In addition to their own team, Gardner said Fontaine used 78 subcontractors to build the school and employed a total of almost 1,000 workers in its construction. For the demolition of White Brook, Fontaine has subcontracted the project to Holyoke-based American Environmental Inc. Gardner estimates this next phase of the project will end in March. Once White Brook has been demolished, the final phase of the project will include the construction of new parking lots and a new athletic field in its place.

Tom Brown, chairman of the city’s School Building Committee, said the side of the building that will host elementary-age students may be completed in time to accommodate these students at an earlier date, but they will likely finish out the school year at the existing Maple, Center and Pepin elementary schools to avoid disruption.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>