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Hampden-Wilbraham School Committee extends lease with Springfield Diocese

Date: 5/1/2012

April 30, 2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee voted unanimously to extend its lease of Memorial School to the Diocese of Springfield until June 30, 2013.

School Committee member Peter Salerno, whom outgoing Chair Scott Chapman put in charge of the lease issue, explained to the committee that the diocese asked the district for the extension for the use of the building by Cathedral High School because of continued insurance issues.

"Cathedral has run into problems and came to us and asked to extend the lease," Salerno said. "The School Committee approached the Board of Selectmen to lease the premises through June 2013 and they approved it, so what we are deciding here is whether or not we wish to extend the lease."

The diocese is headed to arbitration with its insurance carrier, Catholic Mutual, after the insurer offered $15 million for repairs to the building that housed Cathedral and St. Michael's Academy. wjocjwas heavily damaged by the June 1, 2011 tornado. The diocese's attorney Jack Egan insisted at a recent press conference that a $70 million rebuild of the building is necessary.

Salerno said the leasing of Memorial School, which was closed in a district restructuring in 2010, brings in $30,000 a month in revenue to the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District. He added that Cathedral also takes care of any other costs associated with the use of the building.

"According to state statute, that money has to flow into our E and D account, which is essentially our savings account," he said.

Salerno explained that the diocese also anticipates having to extend the lease beyond 2013, but because the town of Wilbraham actually owns the building, additional conversations must be had before such a move can be made.

"There will be ongoing discussions," he said. "I have asked for a joint meeting of the Boards of Selectmen from both Wilbraham and Hampden to see how this can be handled."

If the lease is extended and Cathedral stays through 2014, the district will realize more than $1 million in revenue, he added.

Overall, Salerno said the leasing of the school is a positive move for the district and illustrates its dedication to the surrounding community.

"This district has been a very good neighbor," he said. "When East Longmeadow was in trouble, we offered to help and when Cathedral came to us, we offered our help as well."

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