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MSBA brings meeting to Western Mass

Date: 6/14/2011

June 15, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — It was an unprecedented gesture on the part of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

On June 8, the MSBA conducted its June Board of Directors meeting in the living room of Scanlon Hall on the campus of Westfield State University (WSU). According to Emily Mahlman, director of communications for the MSBA, this was the first time the authority had conducted a board meeting outside of Boston.

"This is an unusual board meeting at an unusual time for the people of Westfield, the people of Springfield, the people of the Pioneer Valley," MSBA Chairman and State Treasurer Steven Grossman told the collection of school representatives from across the state, WSU President Evan Dobelle and college staff members, legislative aides, Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik and other city officials who assembled for the meeting. "We felt it was important to show solidarity with the area."

The mid-day meeting was the MSBA's third stop of the day, following tours of the Elias Brookings Museum Magnet and Mary A. Dryden Veterans Memorial elementary schools, both of which were badly damaged during the EF3 tornado that struck Springfield on June 1. A tour of Westfield's Munger Hill Elementary School, also damaged by the tornado, followed the meeting.

Fresh from the first two school tours, Grossman remarked that "as many FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Authority) photos as I've seen, as many news broadcasts as I've seen" — the images did not compare to seeing first-hand "the path of destruction" Wednesday's tornado had wrought through the neighborhoods in Springfield.

"This [visit] gave us a unique opportunity to understand what the community is going through," he added.

Grossman said the authority's visit to Western Massachusetts was designed to send a "very direct and straightforward message" to the community about the MSBA's commitment to help the school districts impacted on June 1. He said that with peoples' lives "sent upside down" by the aftermath of the tornado, the MSBA, in partnership with the local school districts "is gong to be there until the schools are rebuilt."

MSBA Executive Director Katherine P. Craven remarked that the MSBA was going to have to be "very nimble to help these communities get [repairs done] through the summer" so that, where possible, students could return to the damaged schools in the fall.

Mahlman confirmed for Reminder Publications the MSBA had already begun the Emergency Statement of Interest process to potentially secure funding for school repairs with both the Springfield and Westfield school districts. She said the MSBA's eSOI process "aims to expedite funds to communities that suffer damage to their schools due to unexpected circumstances."

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Though Grossman noted the Westfield based MSBA Board of Director's meeting lacked a quorum — and two members participated in the meeting by conference call — by voice vote the board did approve $75.3 million in funding for the Green Repair Program.

Within that figure was a total of $7.3 million in Green Repair Program grant monies for boiler, roof and window repairs at five Westfield schools. Among the school district projects to be partially funded by these grants are boiler replacements at the Highland, Paper Mill and Southampton Road elementary schools and at the Westfield High School, and roof, windows and boiler replacements at Westfield Vocational Technical High School.

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at debbieg@thereminder.com



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