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District submits 'interest' for new high school

Date: 3/29/2013

By Carley Dangona

AGAWAM — Superintendent William Sapelli has once again drafted a Statement of Interest (SOI), regarding safety improvements at the high school for submission to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for consideration in fiscal year 2014.

MSBA provides funds to schools across the Commonwealth in need of updated and expanded accommodations to serve student populations, according to its website.

"This is just step one," Sapelli said. "SOI is just a statement — we're not locked in — it doesn't commit us to any obligation. Without it, the MSBA won't even consider us. We can't have a conversation if the SOI isn't filed. By not submitting an SOI, it stops the process."

He explained that this is not the first year Agawam has submitted an SOI. Last year the MSBA sent a team to review the school, but determined it was not in need at that time.

Sapelli stated the high school was built in 1955 but that some elements were newer such as the roof that was updated 10 years ago and the boilers that were installed 15 years ago.

"It's a catch 22. The building maintenance team has done a terrific job maintaining the key areas in need throughout the school and its property," he commented.

Steven Lemanski, Agawam High School principal, discussed some of the facility's needs with Reminder Publications. One of the main concerns is the need to ensure both the locker rooms and auditorium are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He described the electrical needs of the building as "at capacity," noting that computer labs with 16 machines are no longer efficient since class size now ranges from 20 to 22 students.

"The school is in good shape, but there are needs," he said. "There is a lot of updating that needs to be done. Right now, there is no place I can seat all of my students at once. This makes it difficult to create a school culture."

Space constraints are another issue, according to Lemanski. The district's entire Information Technology department is housed on the school grounds. In an effort to keep students with special needs on-site, the school has dedicated classrooms to their needs as well. There is also a TV station on-site.

Lemanski cited security as another need included in the SOI. "We are the largest one-floor school with 48 exterior doors," he said. "Safety is absolutely one of the concerns because of recent events [at schools throughout the country]."

He noted that measures such as numbering and cameras are in place to ensure the doors are secure. He added that another concern is the fact that the office is not "centrally located" within the school, increasing the time it takes for the school staff to interact with students and respond to incidents.

The superintendent explained that he was simply "initiating the process" by filing, merely "keeping the door open for discussion."

A review of the SOI is tentatively scheduled for the April 2 agenda of the Agawam School Committee.