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School building project still in MSBA pipeline

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK Superintendent Thomas Witham hoped to retire from the Southwick-Tolland Regional School District (STRSD) on June 30 with a much-needed capital building project in place.

However, Witham told Reminder Publications on June 26 that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) is still considering the district's Feasibility Study. He added that after speaking with a MSBA representative last week, he was assured that the district would be notified of their status within six weeks.

"Everything is beyond our control at this point," Witham said. "They've had our Feasibility Study for five months. The wheels of government work very slowly."

The STRSD was one of 423 school systems throughout the Commonwealth to submit Statements of Interest for MSBA funding. The district is currently one of 88 projects still in the MSBA's Capital Pipeline, according to MSBA spokesperson Carolyn Walsh.

The district is requesting funding for a multi-million dollar project, which includes building an Early Childhood Education Center as well as renovations to Woodland Elementary School.

Witham explained that a new Early Childhood Education Center would allow students currently in session offsite at a facility on College Highway to be moved back on campus. He added that the Early Childhood Education Center would school children in kindergarten through second grade.

Renovations to Woodland Elementary School would allow the removal of the three modular classrooms presently in use and allow fifth grade students currently attending Powder Mill Middle School to move back to the Woodland. The elementary school is five classrooms too small for the student population.

"We can't afford to cure our overcrowding without it [the MSBA funding]," Witham said.

The MSBA will be awarding $500 million for school districts needing capital improvements over the next five years.

Walsh explained that the MSBA is still reviewing the district's Feasibility Study as well as the enrollment forecast in order to determine "a solution that is cost effective and educationally appropriate."

She added that possible building projects must ensure the most efficient use of state and local tax dollars.

"The MSBA and STRSD continue to work in partnership toward the goal of a [capital improvement] project," Walsh explained. "We are still completing our due diligence and it is too early to put a time frame on when possible funding will be awarded. "The MSBA Board of Directors has authorized entering into a Feasibility Study Agreement to jointly fund the study of a potential capital project, including taking a preferred alternative through schematic design. A determination regarding funding of detailed design and construction of a capital project cannot be made until that process is completed."

Witham noted that the district currently has conceptual drawings of the proposed capital project.

He said even though Dr. John Barry, former superintendent of the North Berkshire School Union in North Adams, Mass., has taken over as STRSD's superintendent this month, he will remain on the Building Committee.