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Treasurer sees school building funds at work

Date: 7/12/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE — State Treasurer Steven Grossman and Jack McCarthy, executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, toured the former Chicopee High School building to see firsthand the plan to convert the building into a new middle school for the city on July 10.

The $38 million project — 80 percent of which is being paid for by the Commonwealth — is one of many school building or renovation projects in western Massachusetts, Grossman noted.

He said the improvement of school facilities in the Gateway Cities — locally, those include Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke and Westfield — are more than single projects but part of "a major strategy" to keep the youth of the state here as adults.

"What we have made is an overarching strong statement . to improve the most important asset we've got in the Commonwealth and that's human capital," Grossman said.

Before Grossman arrived, Chicopee School Superintendent Richard Rege explained the new middle school is part of a plan to better use existing school properties in the city. When the new middle school is ready for students in August 2015, those students will be split along geographic lines from Fairfield Veterans Memorial Middle School and the Edward Bellamy Middle School. Rege said his priority is to have students who live near the new middle school to go there, saving the city about $200,000 in bussing costs annually.

The new school would have a student body of 825 youths, Rege added.

The students from Selser Memorial School would go to the former Fairfield Veterans Memorial Middle School and possibly the pre-school program from Szetela Early Childhood School would relocate there as well.

Chicopee Academy, the alternative high school currently in the former Chicopee High School building, would be moved to the former Chapin School, Rege explained.

The new middle school would have its three grades located on separate floors with a vice principal and guidance counselor located on each floor, he said.

Mayor Michel Bissonnette credited Rege with the plan and thanked him for it.

Bissonnette showed Grossman some of the aspects of the renovation. The current cafeteria area is too small to accommodate one grade at a time Rege's plan to avoid having many multiple lunch periods so it will be moved to the former swimming pool area, now being used as a workshop and storage. Rege added that present wall to the hallway would be removed to allow for more space.

The library and media room would also have walls removed to allow for natural lighting.

State Rep. Joseph Wagner noted that the reform effort for the building of schools in the state included creating a dedicated revenue stream from one cent of the sales tax going to school construction.

Grossman said that in fiscal year 2014 that amount would be $703 million, but when leveraged with contributions from municipalities the figure is more than $1 billion.