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Even more about the school

Date: 1/23/2014

This continues my previous letter, The Reminder, 1/17/14.

The Westfield Planning Board approved the new elementary school without deliberations to address the numerous safety and legal concerns raised by the neighborhood about the mayor’s large school project.

In contrast, the Planning Board called Walmart officials into four meetings for an expansion of the Route 20 store. No houses or neighborhoods near that store. Just one meeting – without any deliberations – for a $36 million, 96,000 square-foot district school jammed into a tiny and congested neighborhood when other land is available?

After the planning meeting, we met state Rep. Don Humason, to explain how Westfield was not following the open space protection laws. We presented a concise description of the neighborhood’s concerns including; loss of ball fields; park space; lack of safe egress in case of emergencies; the fragile parking situation with the Catholic church; the city was not following Article 97, nor the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Land Disposition Policy.

Humason listened, but told us he would support the project anyway. With the mayor, City Councilor Jim Brown, state Sen. Michael Knapik and Humason all aligned, we had no place to go but the courts for injunctive relief.

As trees were being cut and playground soil being stripped, the court granted us a restraining order to halt the project. Later in court we argued that the playground was a protected open space. Westfield’s lawyers admitted it was protected. A temporary injunction was then granted.

Several months prior, during a School Committee meeting, the mayor claimed Westfield’s student enrollment was on the decline and that Westfield is unable to fill the schools with it’s own population. He also stated that Westfield had spent too much money in the 1990s trying to reduce classroom sizes and that the days of smaller class sizes were over.

The Superintendent of Schools Dr. Suzanne Scallion claimed that larger class sizes and the increase in School Choice students from other towns is “a win-win” for the city.

Why the need for another school to reduce “severe overcrowding?” Abner Gibbs is claimed to be outdated, but according to its web page, it is a Level 1 category school. The city hired a consultant who informed the School Committee that if Juniper Park is closed, Westfield will need another school to cover that area within the next 10 years. Franklin Avenue School’s web page indicates that the principal there believes Franklin’s a great school. Yet, the mayor said Franklin will also close.

By the way, the mayor informed the School Building Committee that the school design would fit on Ashley and Cross Streets without having to take land, or to lose ball fields. He said this before the architect, or the project manager was hired. They’ve already used eminent domain to take one woman’s home and property on Ashley Street. They destroyed a baseball field, open play space and the rights of the citizens to use a public playground.

Thomas Smith