WESTFIELD – While Westfield State University and the city celebrated the life and closing of a beloved school on June 14, plans for its future begin to unfold. The Juniper Park Elementary School will close at the end of the lease agreement, making way for the university to begin work on its Fine and Performing Arts Center.
The university had leased the school to the city of Westfield, but Vice President of Advancement and University Relations Ken Lemanski said after other colleges in the area closed their teaching schools, Westfield State decided to follow suit. Rather than have education students spend time in a school on campus, the idea was to push them into the community for experience, he said.
Administration at the university decided on a date for the city to vacate the school, given the opportunity to build a new on in town. That effort has stalled continually, and students will attend Russell Elementary School in Russell and the university begins the first phase of transforming Juniper Park.
Though a study is being conducted about the specifics for the future Fine and Performing Arts Center, Lemanski said the first step is a transition. The building needs to change from accommodating children to being able to fit college-age students. This renovation will cost about $1.9 million, he said.
The goal is to move the Music, Art and Theater departments to the new building, which will include music practice spaces, art studios, performing spaces and classrooms.
Work is set to begin on the first phase immediately after the end of the school year, but it will be some time before it’s completed.
“You will not see [a finished product] by the end of the summer, but that’s our long range plan,” Lemanski said. “In effect, art, music and theater will be there as soon as possible, but major renovations will have to wait until we receive or raise efficient funds to do the job thoroughly.”
Lemanski said the university will be working closely with the Division of Capital Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) once the designs are complete to get full approval from the state to move forward. Because of Westfield State’s work on a new science center, Lemanski said the university is used to working closely with DCAMM.
The growth of Westfield State’s enrollment has progressed so much that the university is just now catching up on expanding the campus physically, Lemanski said. In addition to matching growth, Lemanski said this building was necessary to provide these departments with appropriate space.
“They’re in an inferior space right now. The music practice rooms are right next to history classrooms, and they’re not soundproof,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to give music department a better space that serves their purposes.”
With the closing and transformation of Juniper Park, Lemanski said he and other administrators have talked extensively about keeping the elementary school’s community involved.
“We’ve had extensive conversations with parents of Juniper Park students and alumni to make sure that they continue to be welcomed at the school, even as we use the facility for our university,” Lemanski said. “We’ll be making sure that we invite alumni back on a regular basis.”