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School districts welcome project approvals

Date: 10/4/2011

Oct. 5, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

BOSTON — The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) gave the nod to three local school projects – one each in Agawam, Southwick and Westfield — during its monthly board meeting on Sept. 28.

The projects were a part of more than $220 million in building and Green Repair Program requests from school districts statewide considered and approved by the MSBA that day.

“It was staggering to me the number of school projects; there is so much need,” said Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik, who attended the board meeting to speak on behalf of the Abner Gibbs Elementary School project.

For the Agawam Public Schools, the MSBA approved $1.6 million in Green Repair Project funding to assist the district in replacing the roof, windows and exterior doors at the junior high school. According to materials provided by the MSBA, the total cost to the town for the project is estimated to be $2.95 million. The MSBA funding figure is based on a 57 percent reimbursement.

“I’m very pleased we were picked [to receive Green Repair Project funding],” Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen, chair of the Agawam School Board, said. “It’s a project that has to be done and we’re saving the taxpayers a lot of money.”

Cohen said the 40-year-old school received a new roof membrane 25 years ago, but that has been the only significant repair to the building. He added that the window, door and roof repairs for the school have been in the town’s Capital Planning budget “for quite some time.”

He added the school committee is now working with the town’s treasurer and collector to determine the best way to finance the town’s portion of the repair costs, which he estimated to be about $1 million.

“We’re going to do this in the most fiscally responsible way possible,” Cohen said.

For the Southwick-Tolland Regional School District, the MSBA gave its approval to move into the schematic design phase for proposed additions and renovations to the regional high school, which was constructed in 1971, and repairs to Powder Mill Middle School and Woodland Elementary School.

These proposed renovations, which are contingent upon the regional school district expanding to include Granville, include renovating the existing high school and converting it into a middle/high school encompassing grades seven through 12.

They also involve renovations and repairs to the current Powder Mill Middle School, constructed in 1954 as a junior/senior high school, to convert it from grades five through eight to grades three through six, and renovations and repairs to Woodland Elementary School, originally constructed in 1959, to convert it from pre-kindergarten to grade four to pre-kindergarten to grade two.

The estimated total cost of this project is $69.5 million. The MSBA projects construction costs, based on the current schematic of the project, at $49.5 million.

“If we are not successful in expanding the regional district, the only project the MSBA will support is the renovations and addition at the high school,” Southwick-Tolland Regional School District Superintendent Dr. John Barry said. “The very disturbing problem with this is that these other two buildings need infrastructure and updating that won’t happen at all if [voters] don’t approve regionalization.”

Barry said voters in Granville have already approved the regionalization plan, with votes in Tolland and Southwick expected on Oct. 3 and 4, respectively.

Barry added that the MSBA has already reimbursed the district for design work and a feasibility study for the project.

For the Westfield Public Schools, the MSBA approved a $23.1 million grant to help fund the construction of a new Abner Gibbs Elementary School on the site of the former Ashley Street School.

The project, which employs a school design already in use in Williamsburg, Mass., is part of the MSBA’s Model School Program.

According to materials provided by the MSBA, the total cost to the city for the school is projected to be $35.9 million. The grant reflects a 67.9 percent reimbursement on the total cost of the 95,573 square foot school project, which, when completed, would house students from kindergarten through grade five.

“I am pleased that Westfield identified the Model School Program as a good fit and is able to take advantage of these potential savings,” State Treasurer Steven Grossman, chair of the MSBA, said in a press release.

Grossman said the design presented would give Westfield students a 21st century learning environment and align with the district’s reorganization plan.

Knapik said construction of this new elementary school – which has a projected enrollment of 600 students – allows the city to “right size the school department for the next generation.”

He said an overall decline in elementary student enrollments citywide, the loss of the lease with Westfield State University for the Juniper Park School, the aging infrastructures at Franklin Avenue and Abner Gibbs elementary schools and the closing of Moseley Elementary School two years ago were factors that made Westfield’s application for the Model School Program the right move at this time.

“This [building grant] allows us to close three school buildings,” Knapik said. “In an era of declining state revenues back to the city, we need to shrink our [school] square footage.”

He also praised the MSBA for its efficiency in processing project requests.

“We are very thankful that this project was able to go from concept in the spring of 2010 to authorization for funding in the fall of 2011,” Knapik said. “To have this available to us in an 18-month timeframe is just unbelievable.”

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at

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