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HWRSD Middle School Task Force discusses possibility of regionalized school

Date: 11/7/2014

HAMPDEN – The Middle School Task Force (MSTF) for the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) toured Thornton Burgess Middle School (TWB) at its first fully staffed meeting on Oct. 30 and also addressed the possibility of a regionalized district middle school.

School Committee Chair Marc Ducey, who was appointed chair of the MSTF, said the task force is designed to focus on a decline in student enrollment for district middle schools.

“If we choose to do things that will impact the regional agreement it will require a town meeting approval [from Hampden and Wilbraham],” he added. 

Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea said the first steps for the task force include gaining an understanding of the middle school buildings and forming a consensus on whether Wilbraham Middle School (WMS) or TWB would be an ideal regionalized middle school.

“I’d say both middle schools are our neediest buildings [in terms of capital infrastructure] in the district,” he added “The high school [is] now in good shape and Green Meadows [Elementary School] has been recently renovated and Mile Tree and Stony Hill [Elementary Schools] were renovated in 1999.”

Ducey said the MSTF would likely submit actionable recommendations to School Committee after Jan. 1, 2015, which might include a recommendation to hire an architectural or engineering consultant to conduct a study on the capabilities of district middle schools.

“I think it’s safe to say that whatever we do is not going to impact the fall 2015 school year,” he added.

Ducey said if the district creates a regionalized middle school there would be several questions such as whether the district or the town where the middle school is located would pay for building improvements.

“The high school is owned by the district; TWB is owned by the town of Hampden; WMS is owned by Wilbraham,” he explained. “So all capital repairs to [TWB] are Hampden’s responsibility, not the district’s responsibility.”

The MSTF will review programs and services at district middle schools, review the district improvement plan, assess staffing pattern needs and deficiencies, and review past, present and future enrollment statistics, Ducey said.

Both middle school site locations will also be reviewed by the MSTF, which would include a review of infrastructure, technology, operating capacities,  major operating systems, health and safety infrastructure, and space issues.

Noel Pixley, current WMS principal and former TWB principal, said TWB was originally built as intermediary school in 1967 for grades 4 through 8.

The E section of the building has rooms that have larger space because they were designed for elementary students, he added. The A section of the building was constructed with students in higher grades and has less space.

“Those closets, C3 and paper storage, were actually built there with the idea that if the building ever needed expansion those would be areas that [could be expanded],” Pixley said.

Edward Cenedella, director of facilities and operations, said in 2004 Hampden approved a project for a high efficiency boiler and water heater and changed the older energy management systems to modern ones.

“The boiler that was [installed] in 1967 still is here and works quite well,” he added.

Ducey said there are 266 students at TWB and the building’s capacity is for 365 students, which was based on a report from the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) in January 2013.

“And just to illustrate some of our concerns; in grade 8 this year [at TWB] there are [roughly] 70 kids,” Ducey said. “Grade 7 there are 78 kids, grade 6 it drops to 60, grade 5 it drops to 59 [students].”

O’Shea stated in a September letter to parents and guardians that the decline in student enrollment has exceeded the initial NESDEC projections, which were potentially 600 students enrolled during the 2020 to 2021 school year.

The current projected school district enrollment for the 2020 to 2021 school year based on K-5 enrollment is 564 students.

On Nov. 13 the MSTF will reconvene to review the WMS, which will also include a tour of the building.