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Renovation modernizes historic school

Date: 6/21/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — The city celebrated the grand re-opening of Westfield Vocational-Technical (Voc-Tech) High School that was built in the 1930s on June 14.

The $17 million project began in 2010 when the city applied to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Green Repair Program. Modernizing the school meant replacing the roof, purchasing new boilers and installing energy efficient windows. Construction began in June of 2012 with the closing of the upper campus, which reopened in August of 2012, according to Laurie Gaido, Voc-Tech secretary. No school days were missed due to the work.

Mayor Daniel Knapik referred to Voc-Tech as the "epicenter" of the city's reconstruction of its infrastructure. "This building has a tremendous history in this city. As you look at it today it is unimaginable what it used to be like. Demolishing this building was not an option — no question about it. Roofs, boilers and windows saved this building," he said.

The MSBA contributed $7.6 million to the Voc-Tech project, the city funded $4.9 million and the remaining $4.5 million was supplied by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources performance contracting program.

Guest speakers included Massachusetts State Treasurer and Receiver General Steven Grossman, MSBA Executive Director Jack McCarthy, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Suzanne Scallion, state Rep. Don Humason and Knapik.

Knapik stated that the remodeling was made possible due to the collaboration with the state. He said, "This is a model for other cities and towns across the Commonwealth."

He continued, "We were given a daunting task four years ago to begin the process of analyzing and identifying the challenges that face our municipal school building infrastructure." He thanked Tammy Tefft, director of Purchasing and Frank Maher of the School Facilities Department for "playing an enormous role in the project" and guiding the city through the process.

Knapik explained that the auditorium, which seats 750 people, also benefited from the project because air conditioning was installed in it, making it "the new heart for our cultural and community programs and become the home of many Westfield theatrical and musical productions."

Grossman said, "I'm a huge believer in vocational/technical education, or as I call it career or professional technical education. I would to see us refer to it more as professional or career technical education because that's exactly what it is. Manufacturing is in the DNA of the city of Westfield. Manufacturing is in the DNA of the people of Hampden County."

He noted that all 2013 Voc-Tech graduates immediately entering the work force all found jobs.

Grossman continued, "The MSBA was created less than 10 years ago when the process by which we built and renovated schools was irrevocably and irretrievably broken," adding that a penny from every sales tax transaction is designated to the MSBA.

The improvements in the building enable a nearly 40 percent reduction in natural gas consumption, resulting in savings for taxpayers, according to Knapik. Ventilation upgrades, new stage flooring in the auditorium and a new gymnasium floor are the upgrades that will be completed as part of the restoration.

"It's always great when we can appropriately take taxpayer resources and bring them back to the community from which those resources come. Most of you in this room are from this community — you were raised here, you went to school here. It is great to spend money to rehabilitate a facility like this and in doing so save money for the future," Humason said.

McCarthy stated that the MSBA likes to be "innovative" and credited Knapik for having "the foresight to try something new." He stated that Knapik made sure the improvements were done right, even if the work had to be halted temporarily to improve the structure beforehand.

A main highlight of the renovation was the re-lighting of the beacon that sits atop the school, which now runs on high-efficient LED lighting, Knapik said. Other improvements included panel radiators for heat and an air conditioning system that monitors the carbon dioxide levels in any given room to sustain fresh air levels. A unique feature of the remodel is that the improvements were left exposed for students to see and utilize as tools for learning.

Scallion thanked the mayor, City Council and the School Committee. She said, "They see the needs of our kids as their biggest priority."