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Westfield State to evict elementary students

Date: 11/11/2008

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD For over 40 years, Westfield Public Schools has leased the building at 715 Western Ave., otherwise known as Juniper Park Elementary School, from Westfield State College (WSC). However, within five years that contract will cease to exist, according to Superintendent Shirley Alvira.

In an interview with Reminder Publications, Alvira said that WSC will require one-third of the building for additional classroom and office space at the beginning of the next academic year, forcing the fourth and fifth graders to be moved to South Middle School. She added that the college has agreed to allow kindergarten through third grades to remain at the school for five more years.

"If I had a say, I would not take the kids out of there [Juniper Park Elementary School]," Alvira said. "This building is a part of the heart and soul of Westfield and you are separating kids and families."

She added that there is some speculation among parents that the fourth and fifth graders are too young to be housed with older middle school students; however, Alvira noted that the elementary school students will operate on a separate schedule with their own administration in a secluded part of building.

South Middle School Principal Ronald Rix explained that a transition team of parents, teachers and administrators from both schools is being formed in order to ensure that the process runs smoothly. He said the aim is to "create a school within a school" at South Middle School.

When asked if the additional 127 students would create overcrowding Rix said, "We're gonna be tight but we can make it work."

Alvira said the arrangement at South Middle School is only "temporary."

"Kids are not dollars. This is a very cohesive community and we need to talk about parents' fears," she said.

Alvira explained that this Friday, the School Department will be submitting a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority to receive funding for new academic facilities. The SOI includes a proposal for funding that would affect students from Juniper Park, Franklin Avenue, Abner Gibbs and Moseley elementary schools, Fort Meadow Early Childhood Center and Westfield High School.

"These buildings are beyond repair," she said, adding that WSC would require $1.7 million for improvements to Juniper Park Elementary School. "We really can't afford that."

Kenneth Lemanski, vice president for Advancement and College Relations at WSC, said, "We've made significant improvements to Juniper Park over the past five years, for which we have not sought reimbursement. This proposed agreement comes at a time when both public schools and the college are facing significant budget cuts. We believe this is one way we can work together to help weather the current economic downturn."

He noted that the college has endured a five percent reduction in state aid this year and will be faced with a seven percent reduction next year.

Mayor Michael Boulanger, also chair of the School Committee, said the city is currently undergoing contract negotiations with WSC to finalize their plans for Juniper Park.

The School Committee has also yet to review the proposed contract.