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District works angles to secure new facilities

Date: 11/3/2010

Nov. 3, 2010

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- City and state officials have been working closely with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) on various fronts to help rehabilitate the district's ailing structures.

Various committees and school personnel are working with the MSBA to determine the feasibility of building a new elementary school or rehabilitating Abner Gibbs Elementary School, while others are vying for the MSBA's Green Repair Program to finance roof, boiler and window replacements at several of the district's schools.

State Sen. Michael Knapik has also thrown his hat into the ring to help Westfield Public Schools by submitting a letter of endorsement on Oct. 20 to MSBA Executive Director Katherine Craven in hopes of accelerating certain processes.

"We would not be here at this stage without him," School Superintendent Shirley Alvira said of Knapik's efforts. She noted his efforts to help the district meet with the MSBA this week to discuss the possibility of a model school.

"We're anxious to get this project started for a lot of different reasons," Mayor Daniel Knapik said, noting the deterioration of existing elementary schools and the loss of Juniper Park Elementary School to Westfield State University when the lease is up next school year.

The city and school district have also taken action by creating a 31-member Building Committee and a $600,000 feasibility study for a new elementary school and consolidation planning. The mayor noted that preliminary enrollment projections show a decrease in the number of students coming into the district, therefore prompting the need for district-wide consolidation.

The mayor and superintendent noted that the results of the feasibility study as well as construction or rehabilitation of Abner Gibbs Elementary School could take up to several years.

Those working on gaining funds from the MSBA's Green Repair Program have reached another benchmark by selecting a project manager for improvements to Southampton Road and Highland Elementary schools.

Two of the three elementary schools included in the district's statement of interest (SOI) for the Green Repair Program were invited into the pipeline, according to Emily Malhman, director of communications for the MSBA.

Frank Maher, director of operations, maintenance and food services for Westfield Public Schools, noted that Franklin Avenue Elementary School was rejected. He has since submitted a new SOI to the MSBA for a new roof for Franklin Avenue Elementary School.

The district is currently requesting $1 million from the Green Repair Program to re-roof Southampton Road and Highland Elementary Schools, Maher noted.

"[State] reimbursement is about 62 cents on the dollar, which is substantial," he explained.

Those granted funding from the Green Repair Program should have their projects underway or completed by 2011, Malhman said.

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