WILBRAHAM – The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee voted unanimously at its Nov. 10 meeting to follow the recommendation of the Middle School Task Force (MSTF) regarding long-term goals for a single unified middle school.
With this decision now in place, the School Committee would submit a statement of interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) regarding a single middle school. However, the committee has yet to decide whether a that school would consist of a newly constructed building or a renovation of one of the district’s existing middle schools.
The motion was made by School Committee Vice Chair Lisa Morace and then amended by School Committee Chair Peter Salerno to include an emphasis on a strategy outlined by the MSTF, which was not included in the original motion.
Previously, the MSTF recommended a short-term plan – constructing modular space at Wilbraham Middle School (WMS) over Thornton W. Burgess Middle School (TWB) – to the committee due to a lack of space at TWB and other factors.
MSTF Co-Chair Todd O’Brien told Reminder Publications after the meeting the School Committee has yet to vote the MSTF’s short-term plan recommendation and the group has yet to formulate a strategy for a long-term approach to address the issue.
He added that the School Committee wouldn’t be able to make a decision regarding long-term and short-term approaches until the MSBA completes a comprehensive study of the buildings. After MSBA assessments of existing locations are completed, the committee would likely continue onward with the goal of constructing a unified middle school.
In order to create a unified middle school, in the short-term and long-term, Town Meeting voters from Wilbraham and Hampden need to approve a change in the regional agreement between the two towns.
“I think we would like to bring it to the next Town Meetings in the spring,” O’Brien said. “They only happen once a year unless there’s a special vote. That would be our next opportunity, but there’s an awful lot that needs to be coordinated [and] aligned in order to get there.”
There are many pieces that need to fall into place, including the legal aspect of the change to the regional agreement – how the buildings that exist now would be handled in future states, he noted.
Salerno said during the meeting the next step involves making sure residents of both communities are informed about proposed vote to change the regional agreement.
“We first have got to win the minds and hearts of the people who are going to vote, once we have that in our hip pocket we know that we can then leverage that into what we hope [to be] successful activity as we go up the line,” he added.
Salerno said he believes this proposal shouldn’t be “hung up on a date.”
He added, “If it’s this year, that’s great and if it’s not this year that’s understandable.”
O’Brien said the MSTF has completed a brochure that would be sent out to residents in both communities, which is currently being reviewed by the district’s legal counsel. A survey is also in development, which would be distributed to residents of the two towns.
School Committee and MSTF member William Bontempi also urged that the committee consider other methods for informing the public, including the creation of videos or frequently asked question section on the district website.
“Legality is we have to just provide information and we can’t market the issue,” Salerno explained. “All we can do is say, ‘This is what it is; this is what the facts are.’”
Salerno also presented a letter to the rest of the committee from the Wilbraham selectmen endorsing the construction of modular space at WMS.
“The Wilbraham Board of Selectmen supports the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District’s pursuit of a solution to the middle school enrollment issue,” Salerno read. “The Board of Selectmen believes that a consolidation of [TWB] into [WMS] with the addition of modular classrooms is in the best interest of our young learners in our communities at large.”
He added that the committee has yet to receive a similar letter from the Hampden Board of Selectmen, but remains hopeful that Hampden selectmen would endorse the idea.