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School Committee approves $4.1 million for new 'Chaug

Date: 2/13/2012

Feb. 13, 2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee took a giant step forward in equipping the new Minnechaug Regional High School, but not before Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea had to eat a giant piece of humble pie.

Having lost a bet with School Committee member Peter Salerno regarding the outcome of the recent Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, O'Shea was forced to open the meeting wearing a newly purchased Giants sweatshirt as a Super Bowl Champions hat sat in the middle of the conference room table.

"My skin is crawling under this sweatshirt," he said with a smile, reluctantly stating "Go Giants" before removing the shirt for the remainder of the meeting.

Moving on to more serious business, the School Committee approved a spending allowance for furniture, fixtures, equipment and technology of just a shade more than $4.1 million.

"What I'm most excited about is the infrastructure that is going into the backbone of this building," O'Shea said. "Among the things I am excited about is the fact that network speeds are going to be 10 times faster, which is going to open up all kinds of opportunities for our students."

O'Shea added that the new Minnechaug will be equipped for multi-platform computer learning.

"Our philosophy focused on our students being able to use multiple platforms, giving them the opportunity to use PCs or Macs, wireless [internet] and hardwired, as well as having the option to use tablets, laptop computers and desktops," he said.

School Committee member John McCarthy expressed some concerns with some of the items. He said while he was fine with the expenditure amount that was determined, he felt there were cheaper ways to get better equipment.

"I don't see how we can justify a $120,000 language lab," he said, noting that he has found cheaper alternatives. He also indicated the consultant aiding the School Building Committee did not outline the real cost of ownership of the lab equipment. "There is also a $5,000 maintenance agreement that adds up quickly over time."

McCarthy also questioned the choice of computers recommended for the school and said he was willing to work with Minnechaug Principal Stephen Hale in finding alternatives.

"The consultant recommended Dell, but they rate 10th out of 10 in reliability," McCarthy said. "I don't know why we're looking at less reliable products. Maintenance of those machines only adds to the cost of ownership."

He also recommended purchasing LED monitors instead of LCD, stating the energy savings would help reduce costs.

Marianne Desmond, who was pivotal in proposing the furniture and fixtures for the building, said the pieces selected to furnish the school were of good quality, but with fiscal responsibility in mind.

She said all rooms will be equipped with an L-shaped teacher's desk, a utility table, a book shelf, filing cabinet, 24 student chairs and 24 desks, which make utilization easier for both right-handed and left-handed students.

School Committee Chair Scott Chapman also reported that after a "frank conversation" with officials from the American Red Cross and respective public safety departments in Hampden and Wilbraham, the Shelter Sub-Committee decided to pursue making the new Minnechaug building an emergency shelter.

"We're looking at it being a shelter in the event of a natural disaster for both Wilbraham and Hampden," he said.

In March, the committee will formally vote on utilizing the school as a shelter, at which time Chapman will be authorized to enter into agreements with the two towns.

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