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Council’s $1.25M vote is next step to new high school

Date: 12/8/2021

AGAWAM — City councilors plan to vote on a $1.25 million feasibility study next month, the precursor to at least dozens of millions of dollars of spending on a new or renovated Agawam High School.

Mayor William Sapelli said the town is in Phase I of a 270-day eligibility period triggered by preliminary approval, in August, from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

By the end of this phase on April 28, 2022, the town will have to be done identifying its high school needs, setting a schedule to complete the project, and other tasks. Phase II is a formal feasibility study.

Jennifer Bonfiglio, chief procurement officer, said before that step, the City Council will need to approve $1.25 million to fund the feasibility study, schematic design and owner’s project requirements. The funding is on the council’s Jan. 19 agenda. Bonfiglio said the $1.25 million cost will be raised through short-term bonds.

Sapelli describes this vote as the “steering point” in the project. Town and state officials haven’t decided if Agawam High School needs to be renovated, receive an addition or be torn down and rebuilt entirely. The feasibility study will clarify what option makes the most sense.

Sapelli said the MSBA will look at the situation of all school buildings in town, not just the high school. As apart of the feasibility study, the architect that is hired, along with the MSBA and building committee, will consider all options to see what construction is necessary.

Whether new construction or renovation, Sapelli said the school needs to accommodate roughly 2,000 students. The high school’s current enrollment is 1,027 students in grades 9-12.

Following the construction decision, the building committee will begin schematic design, which is the first stage of project design. MSBA typically funds about 60 percent of the costs of school construction projects it approves. Bonfiglio said Agawam is hoping for that level of reimbursement. The town is responsible for funding the remaining percentage.

Sapelli estimated a new high school would cost about $125 million. He went on to say that town officials will make the decision on renovation or new construction, and whether to proceed with the project and how to fund it, in July 2023. The City Council will have to vote to approve those decisions.

“It’s a huge investment for the community and the state,” added Sapelli.

Over the past 15 years, Sapelli said, the town has applied to the MSBA for a new high school about three or four times, but was not chosen for state reimbursement. This time around, he said, about 40 schools applied and only 16 were accepted, including Agawam.

“We are appreciative to be accepted into this by the MSBA,” said Bonfiglio.

Agawam High School was built in 1955, with additions made to the school in 1980 and 1987. Sapelli, who is also the town’s former school superintendent, said everything in the building is decrepit.

Sapelli said the “interesting thing” with these additions is that the town never built up, but built out. The school currently covers 266,829 square feet, all on one story. He said the high school property at Cooper and Mill streets has enough room to accommodate construction of a new building, though some athletic fields would have to move.

Bonfiglio noted that last year, the town completed a $3.5 million project building new athletic facilities at the high school, including turf fields, concession stands and more. She assured that none of this would be touched if a new high school were to be constructed on the existing grounds.

Sapelli echoed her point. He said if the construction project has to displace athletic fields, the un-renovated grass fields will be used.