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Council approves land acquisition for new elementary school

Date: 6/28/2011

June 29, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — The City Council authorized the city to acquire the first parcel of land on Ashley Street for the proposed new elementary school — and approved the appropriation of $180,000 to pay for its acquisition — at its June 23 meeting.

The vote on the appropriation — taken after the suspension of City Charter Rule section 35B, which requires financial issues be read and considered at two meetings prior to a vote in order to meet the June 30 fiscal year deadline — was 13-0. The vote on the authorization was 11-2, with City Councilors At Large David Flaherty and Patti Andras opposing.

Neither measure passed without a measure of heated discussion.

Flaherty said he was dismayed when a large spending measure such as the school appropriation seemed rushed through the council.

“We haven’t seen a lot of details on this. Where is the money coming from?” he asked.

Ward Two City Councilor James Brown, who is also a representative on the new elementary school’s planning committee, said the appropriation was coming out of the city’s fiscal year 2011 (FY11) free cash account “as the mayor noted in his request.”

Brown added, “There’s nothing new about this [request]. We’ve been discussing [the school project] and it’s been covered in both newspapers.”

Brown also noted that the city’s Auditor, Deborah Strycharz, had signed off on the appropriation.

City Council President Christopher Keefe noted that Mayor Daniel Knapik had expressed an urgency that this measure be passed before the end of June, as there was a concern about the spending making the FY11 final reimbursement submission to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

Ward Four City Councilor Mary O’Connell said she “heard the councilor across the way,” and suggested that a member of the new school planning committee might be invited to a future council meeting to provide more background on the project.

“I do feel a little disconnect on this project,“ she added.

Brown said he would be happy to have a representative of the committee come into the July 7 meeting and make a presentation to the council.

Flaherty again took issue with the measure approving the land taking for the school, questioning the rush on approving that measure that evening.

“This is the first piece of the pie. How much is it going to cost to buy the other pieces?” he asked.

City Councilor At Large Brent Bean II expressed frustration at the continued argument over the school issues.

“We’re famous for bringing issues into votes that have nothing to do with the vote,” he said. “This is like the [Green River] Bridge Project. It’s taking 40 years to build a bridge and a school.”

Bean said that the council has representation on the committee, and that the issue needed to “move forward.”

Brown said any interested council member would be welcome at the next school planning committee meeting, which is scheduled for July 6 at 6 p.m. at South Middle School.

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at

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