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School Building Committee convene regarding new school construction

Date: 9/7/2010

Sept. 8, 2010

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- The 31-member School Building Committee will meet for the first time on Sept. 22 to discuss the possible reconfiguration of the district.

Decreasing enrollment and deteriorating school and administrative buildings have prompted city and school officials to sign an agreement with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to explore options for the district, according to Mayor Daniel Knapik, member of the committee.

"Our priority is Abner Gibbs [Elementary School]. We'd like to see a new elementary school [built]," Superintendent Shirley Alvira, member of the School Building Committee, said.

The school building is too old and in need of extensive repairs and upgrades such as larger classroom sizes and handicap accessible features that go far beyond being cost-effective, she added.

Alvira noted other possibilities for restructuring the district include additions to Franklin Avenue Elementary School or the consolidation of Abner Gibbs, Ft. Meadow Early Childhood Center and the administrative building on Ashley Street into one facility.

Ward 2 City Councilor James Brown, member of the School Building Committee, noted a potential site for a new elementary school at an undisclosed location is in his ward.

Knapik and Alvira stressed that working with the MSBA is a multi-year process and many more steps must be completed before the district could see tangible results. New construction, if granted by the MSBA, will likely take place after Alvira's retirement next year.

The next steps for the School Building Committee to procure a project manager and designer as well as finalizing a feasibility study agreement, Emily Mahlman, spokesperson for the MSBA, explained.

The City Council has already allocated approximately $600,000 for the study, which will include future enrollment projections, extensive studies of existing buildings and recommendations for restructuring the district with or without new construction.

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting to learn about the newly formed School Building Committee and the MSBA's role in the district's future.

Committee members include city and school department staff, architects, city councilors, school committee members and other Westfield residents.

The first School Building Committee meeting will take place on Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the school department's central office, 22 Ashley St.

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