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Council hears school protest, maintenance cost request

Date: 3/20/2012

March 21, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

WESTFIELD — It was another chance to get their message out to the public, and Save the Neighborhood took advantage of it.

And though the City Council did not respond to citizen's comments regarding the construction of a new elementary school, it did consider proposals regarding the overall state of the city's schools and public buildings.

Nine members of Save the Neighborhood used the public participation portion of the March 15 City Council meeting to continue their opposition to the conversion of former Ashley Street School and Cross Street Playground lands into a proposed 48,000 square foot, multi-story elementary school.

Ernest Simmons spoke to the tight quarters the large school building would create in the neighborhood, and to concerns regarding the safety of students walking up to a mile and a half to school through the neighborhood's older, congested streets. He asked the council to "protect these children, consider their safety from predators and save the neighborhood from this monster building."

Joe Chapin said he was not against the construction of a new elementary school, just the location.

"I admit this school [design] looks good in Williamstown, but then they have almost three times the space compared to our small Westfield site area, right off our Main Street area," Chapin said, adding that he, like Simmons, was also concerned about young pedestrians and traffic in the area.

Chapin also pointed to the potential loss of the area's existing "green area" — or open space — as site plans call for the school to absorb a portion of the existing Cross Street Playground land.

"Most cities are doing just the opposite," he said. "They are trying to preserve areas like what those for this inner-city school site want to take away from the residents of Westfield.

"What I ask is that everyone on the planning committee please consider a better site for the new school," Chapin continued.

* * *

The council heard an initial reading of Mayor Daniel Knapik's request that the city bond for $17 million to complete repairs to a number of city-owned buildings.

Among the expenditures to be covered by this bond are $1.3 million for steam conversion at the Southampton Road Elementary School, $1.1 million for steam conversion at the Highland Park Elementary School, $6 million for heating and air conditioning work at the upper building of Westfield Vocational Technical High School and $980,000 for masonry work at the school. The request also includes funding to replace the boilers at the Police Station, two Fire Department substations, several roof replacements and more necessary building maintenance in the city.

Knapik told Reminder Publications the request, the first of many, was necessary because of inadequate maintenance planning for city properties during the past 20 or more years.

At Large City Councilor John Beltrandi III questioned whether any of the items slated for replacement had warranties, and if those warranties could be examined before money was spent on repairs to items.

"Some of the schools are not that old," he said.

At Large City Councilor David Flaherty said he "didn't have a problem with what needs to be done" to city properties, but questioned approving a bond when "we don't have a plan to pay for this."

In a related resolution, Ward Two City Councilor James Brown, in conjunction with Ward Four City Councilor Mary O'Connell, Ward Six City Councilor Richard Onofrey Jr., and At Large City Councilors James Adams, Beltrandi and Flaherty, put forth a motion requesting that the city's Law Department study and draft an ordinance creating a Building Maintenance Department to oversee the repairs and upkeep of all city-owned, leased or controlled properties.

Explaining the resolution, Brown said that as the council begins to approve "spending all the million of dollars on building maintenance, [we] want to make sure we have a maintenance plan so that the City Council 25 years from now does not face the same situation."

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