Finally, A New High School

Date: 3/15/2010

I am a retired music teacher who lives in Longmeadow. My great grandfather, grandfather and father taught me what they knew best, the building trade. They built homes featured in Better Homes and Gardens for Mike Wallace and Ginger Rogers. They also built churches and schools for more than 80 years.

Longmeadow High School was built nearly 60 years ago. In response to Leo Vartanian's Reminder letter, a school is not at all like a personal residence. Its building, design, maintenance and use are all different. Most folks today don't spend 60 years in a home. A school facility plays host to thousands of students, as well as hundreds of parents and community events. Many school buildings are seeing an expanded role for the future.

I came to Longmeadow in 1973 and entered a "newly renovated" room. My dad and I looked at the work and contacted officials to have many things changed or corrected. Unfortunately little was ever substantively changed and I worked in this facility for the next 35 years. For example, a door designed for the purpose of moving the piano on and off the stage was two inches too small. The crumbling asbestos covering a pipe in the music lab would stay in place until eight years ago when a parent finally demanded its removal.

During my tenure, the music program grew to number almost half of the high school population. We were recognized with several Grammy and other awards for excellence. Our auditorium remains one of the poorest in the region from every perspective. It has only 614 seats and a small stage that doesn't really accommodate some of our groups. Our local fire department has asked us to limit the enthusiastac attendance at our concerts because the facility is too small it and can create an unsafe situation. The inadequate ventilation can be louder than the music and therefore is best when turned off. Our seats, finally recovered by the Hampden County Jail inmates a few years back, still feature an "individual broken spring massage" which make them difficult to sit in for very long. The lighting was finally replaced when a school committee person's daughter was nearly electrocuted. The new lighting board was replaced with the cheapest available board and only functions nominally.

As a past Department Chair and Coordinator of Music grades K-12, I also respect the fact that the other departments have similar stories to tell. The science lab situation is one good example.

Longmeadow real estate has maintained its value for many reasons, not the least of which has been the reputation of the schools. The excellent teachers, motivated students and successful parents are responsible for this continued success, despite the conditions of the facilities, books and equipment. Successful private industry looks to improve its tools and facilities to maximize the results. Shouldn't education do the same? Imagine the new standards that we could establish at the high school with better conditions.

Each year we are told of economic hard times and uncertainty. This has been the consistent story since 1981, although it has not always been true. This year it is the truth and the town's operating budget reflects that fact. The music department's string program was reduced last year and may be eliminated in this budget. Is this the price of excellence?

The new school is a capital improvement that will be paid for over a long period of time and contribute to our community for the next 60 years. It is fiscally wise to separate your yearly operating budget from long-range capital improvements. I also understand that a negative vote on this school will put us at the end of the reimbursement line for as much as ten years. Can Longmeadow afford that? Mr. Vartanian suggests that we consider spending the money as though it is our own, and I agree. We sent this money to Boston in our taxes and fees. Let's be smart and reclaim our money though the 30 to 40 million dollar reimbursement a new school will yield. Vote for the new school that our kids and town both need and deserve.

Peter Thomsen