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School, city officials consider new ECC, high school

Date: 4/20/2010

April 21, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- City officials and school administrators are committed to planning for a prosperous future for students in Agawam.

Structural and technological deficiencies within the district's facilities prompted Mayor Richard Cohen and Superintendent Mary Czajkowski to form the Agawam Public Schools Long Range Planning Committee. The committee has proposed a long-range plan for the town's schools and public offices with the intent to submit a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for its consideration.

"The key is I don't want taxpayers to think this will happen tomorrow," Cohen said, adding that he plans to finish paying off the preexisting $8.4 million debt from upgrades to school facilities in 1997 and 1998.

"When times are tough [economically], that's when you do your long range planning," he said.

The plan calls for the restructuring of each elementary school to include grades kindergarten through five, rather than the current configuration of grades kindergarten through four. Such reconfiguration will allow for an additional elementary school to be named after School Committee member Roberta Doering at the current middle school.

Agawam Middle School would then be moved to the current Agawam High School, allowing for the current junior high school to be used for town and school department administration, while a new high school and early childhood center are built on Tuckahoe land.

Cohen and Czajkowski noted the school district's biggest problem is the Agawam Early Childhood Center (ECC).

"ECC was a temporary location 20 years ago and doesn't have the playscape or the appropriate storage facilities," Czajkowski explained. "Parking has been a safety issue; and educationally, 11 children with autism are needing room for movement and kids given therapy in hallways ... that's just not appropriate.

"Our high school is 55 years old and we're looking to prepare students for 21st century skills [in a 20th century building]," she continued. "I'm very understanding that this is an economic downturn and these are not financially good times but this is a good time to plan so that when we do come out of this [recession] we do have a plan."

City Councilor Robert Rossi does not agree. "I think it's a little premature," he said of the long-range plan.

"While I'm not opposed to having those [facilities] further down the line, we have problems that we need to address immediately," Rossi added. "By looking 10 to 15 years to a possibility that may not even be there, I think we're taking the eye off the ball of our immediate needs."

He said the immediate needs include the outdated ECC, which should be addressed now, as opposed to being coupled with a new high school and overhaul of the entire district.

Cohen disagreed, noting that such plans are necessary to ensure the town's future. He added that there is no financial commitment to submitting an SOI to the MSBA this fall, allowing them to survey schools' deficiencies and rate its potential for state funding.