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City Council gets update on new Ashley Street School

Date: 7/12/2011

July 13, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — Ward Four City Councilor Mary O’Connell had her June 23 meeting request fulfilled last Thursday, when Dale Caldwell, project manager from Skanska USA Building Inc. gave the council an update on the progress of the Ashley Street elementary school project.

O’Connell had requested the update prior to the council’s vote to appropriate $180,000 to acquire the first real estate parcel in anticipation of the project’s acceptance by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

The Ashley Street school project will replace Abner Gibbs Elementary School, which is 100 years old.

Caldwell explained that the design of the proposed Ashley Street School is based on one of the MSBA’s model schools located in Williamstown near the campus of Williams College.

“It’s a great building ... we don’t need to re-design it,” Caldwell said in response to City Council President and Ward One Councilor Christopher Keefe’s question about how much of the Ashley Street project was drawn from the Williamstown school. “We can make it fit the city [landscape and] any changes will be minor.”

He said his firm’s design team expected to have drawings for the school ready to be priced by July 20, at which time he could provide a the council with a preliminary estimate.

“There is a drop dead date of Aug. 19 to submit the project to the state,” Caldwell said. “In three to four weeks we will know what the project will cost.”

Caldwell said he, along with members of the Westfield School Building Committee, had hosted an informational meeting the prior evening for interested members of the public. He gave the council copies of a handout that had been provided to the public about the school project, noting that the project had a Web site where individuals could ask questions about the project as well as read the answers to questions previously posed by others.

Ward Two City Councilor James Brown, a member of the Westfield School Building committee. Said the July 5 meeting was “fairly well attended.”

Brown pointed out that Westfield was one of 1,200 communities that were putting a project before the MSBA, and that the city was “one of the finalists.”

He added that the MSBA had approved the site, but as of yet had not approved the school’s design.

At Large City Councilor David. Flaherty, who also attended the July 5 meeting, echoed that, despite the public’s impression, the school project is “not a done deal.”

He said, “we need to meet the deadlines or we will lose the funding and go to the bottom of the list.”

He added that the major concerns expressed at the informational meeting involved traffic, buses and pick-up and drop-off by parents.

Brown said the new school would bring approximately six buses into the neighborhood.

“Abner Gibbs is 100 years old … the MSBA jumped all over this project,” Brown said. “It’s a chance to bring 21st century education to inner city kids.”

Mayor Daniel Knapik, who also attended the July 5 meeting, told Reminder Publications that he had heard some “significant concerns” from a few abutters about the project during the evening, “but that when you think of the fact that there are 1,200 school projects in front of the MSBA and this is at the top of the list, you can’t lose sight of the greater good this project has for the community at large.”

The final informational meeting about the Ashley Street school project will take place at the school site at 6 p.m. on July 19.

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