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Mayoral candidates differ on priorities, high school vision

Date: 10/4/2023

AGAWAM — Days before the preliminary election on Oct. 10, candidates for both the City Council and the mayor gathered to meet and talk with voters at a candidate forum presented by the Agawam Public Library.

As part of that event, the mayoral candidates were interviewed by Reminder Publishing for broadcast over Agawam Media.

All four candidates — City Councilor Cecilia Calabrese, former business owner and activist William Clark, Council President and former Mayor Christopher Johnson, and business owner Andy Montefusco — participated in the interviews.

In answer to the question “What are the biggest challenges facing Agawam?” Calabrese said, “Our demographics are going to be changing, I think that’s going to require us to be open and kind particularly to the new folks that are going to moving into Mill Street,” in an affordable housing complex.

Although she said the new high school will be a financial burden to the town, she believes it is an investment in the community’s children. The Police, Fire and Public Works departments need to be supported to maintain the safety of the town “without breaking the backs of the taxpayer,” she said.

Clark said the biggest challenge from his perspective is budgeting.

“The fiscal budget is a template. It’s been the same for 40 years. It doesn’t change. We need to remake the budget to make sense … the budget needs to be remade because neighborhoods are being ignored,” he asserted.

He said roads are “patched and patched and patched” in the neighborhoods and water lines are breaking. Paying for the new high school would also be a challenge, he added.

Johnson said the biggest challenges for him are “the capital improvement needs.” The new high school is the most prominent, he said. He said a new high school will be “the largest capital improvement project in Agawam’s history.”

Montefusco said that “personalities and attitudes” are the biggest problem. He explained, “I see about 200 people every day and for me it’s common sense, personality and attitudes. Everyone seems negative all the time. What I want to do is try to change that, make people’s lives easier.” He added he knows accomplishing that will be hard and that restoring the full use of the Senior Center is why he is running.

In answer to the question, “Agawam is in the process of considering a new or renovated high school. What are your thoughts about this issue?” Calabrese said the town is facing three options, a new school, renovating the present school or bringing the current structure up to code.

“That is not an option,” she said of simple code compliance. “It’s going to be costly and there’s no reimbursement [from the state] there. If we go with the renovation track, that’s going to be costly.”

She explained that approach would require modular classrooms as the school is being renovated, and the students would lose the use of the gym and the auditorium. “Neither one of those options is viable,” she said.

She is in favor of a new “state-of-the-art” facility, and a new school should offer vocational options as well as college prep programs.

Clark said he is concerned about the reimbursement rate from the state for a new school, as well as conflicting bond amounts the town must undertake.

“We need to do things that make sense,” he said. Clark added that when he has attended public meetings about the high school and noted there is a difference between the projected effective reimbursement rate of 28% and the 59.4% figure he had originally been told.

He is also concerned about the proposed preschool that would be part of the new high school project.

“I need to see the numbers separate [of the two projects],” he said.

In order to have an opinion about a new high school, he wants to learn more about the reimbursement rate.

Johnson downplayed the role of the mayor in choosing whether the town gets a new school or a renovated one, as much of that decision is in the hands of the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

“We’re in the beginning of that process,” he said. He added, “It will be a huge decision for the residents of Agawam” and he wants as much information as possible about the options in the project to be disseminated.

He explained that likely the town will get a new high school, as “it will probably be the same cost to construct a new building as to renovate the existing building.”

Montefusco said being raised in Springfield, he has only seen the high school from the outside, and has never been in the building, which he wants to do to “see exactly what this is pertaining to.”

He said he understands an early child care center would be part of the project and said, “I don’t know if that’s necessary. I’ve been in the town 25 years and I know the majority of the population in Agawam is seniors. It’s almost as if it’s turning into a retirement town. I don’t see a lot of new people coming in here.”

To view the interviews in their entirety, visit

Preliminary election polls will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10. The only race on the preliminary ballot is for mayor; the top two vote-getters will qualify for the November general election, and the bottom two will drop out of the race.

All registered voters in Agawam can cast ballots at their local polling place:

  • Precinct 1, Sapelli School (formerly Robinson Park School), 65 Begley St., Agawam.
  • Precinct 2, Granger School, 31 S. Westfield St., Feeding Hills.
  • Precinct 3, Agawam High School, 760 Cooper St., Agawam.
  • Precinct 4, Doering School, 68 Main St., Agawam.
  • Precinct 5, Phelps School, 689 Main St., Agawam.
  • Precincts 6 and 8, Clark School, 65 Oxford St., Agawam.
  • Precinct 7, Agawam Junior High School, 1305 Springfield St., Feeding Hills.