CHESHIRE, Mass. — Officials are grappling with the downsizing of the Adams-Chesire Regional School District — but talk of another new school building may be a step too far for Adams.
The conversation turned to the future of the school district after last week's budget review for fiscal 2019. The group made up of members of the School Committee, Adams and Cheshire Selectmen and Adams and Cheshire Finance Committees discussed consolidating to a one-campus district.
With the closing of Cheshire Elementary School last year, an aging C.T. Plunkett school building, and a steadily declining population, the School committee has set its sights on soliciting the Massachusetts School Building Authority for funds to build a new elementary school on the Hoosac Valley High School campus.
Superintendent Robert Putnam plans to submit a statement of interest to the MSBA. Even though he does not think it will be initially successful, he urged the district to submit one annually.
"I would be amazed if our initial statement of interest is approved and ... I assume this is something that would be resubmitted every year," he said.
Adams Finance Committee member Craig Corrigan referred to the University of Massachusetts' Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management report on district's options and noted the agency did not mention building a new school. He felt with the steady decline of population in the region, Hoosac Valley may be plenty big enough.
"The idea was that we were going to close one elementary school this past year and in five to seven years through attrition, our total enrollment would be enough to move everybody up here," he said. "Then we close the second school without building a new school."
Putnam said the district's enrollment in the past decade has roughly decreased by 300 students. He said the MSBA process could take up to five to seven years and even by then, enrollment probably would not be low enough to be housed entirely at Hoosac Valley alone.
Hoosac Valley was renovated in 2012 at a cost of $40 million to hold a little over 800 students and even if another 200 students was lost, total enrollment would still be nearly 1,000.
Putnam added that C.T. Plunkett (now known as Hoosac Valley Elementary) has some looming costs: the middle section roof is more than 25 years old and out of warranty and the slate roof is leaking.
He added that the brick building will also need to be repointed, which will be expensive.
"Pointing the brick is a considerable job and I asked the engineer about it and he pointed across the street to the church," Putnam said. "He said that church is a $1 million project for the masonry work that had to be done."
The retiring superintendent said he wants to keep multiple options open in the event Plunkett will not last another 10 years or becomes too expensive just to minimally maintain.
"This school is relatively new, but the Plunkett is about the same age as my mom who hasn't been with us for a long time," he said. "So, it is going to cost us. My way of thinking is to plan for multiple contingencies."
The conversation then switched to the condition of Plunkett and Corrigan likened the situation to the younger Memorial Building.
"We rebuilt Plunkett in the '90s and that was the last time the windows were painted," he said. "I don't want to get to the point where we are with the Memorial Building. That was a beautiful building when I went to school there and it was left to fall apart."
Adams Selectman John Duval said the school can't afford to educate its students and maintain the building and pledged that the town of Adams will add the school to its capital plan and take a leading role in its maintenance.
"I think the town of Adams has to make a commitment to that building because we could be here for another 10 years and we don't know what is going to happen," he said. "We as a community need to understand that that is our elementary school and we need to make sure that the maintenance is done."
School Committee member Stephan Vigna said this committee has already started meeting with both towns in order to make them aware of future capital projects.
Adams Finance Committee member Jeff Lefebvre said he'd rather start the discussions about the inevitable closing of C.T. Plunkett now.
"We need to ... start talking about possibly closing that school," he said. "We don't need another situation like we had with the last one."
Corrigan said he was still hesitant about building new and warned the School Committee that money spent on "brick and mortar" typically just means fewer resources in the classroom.
"What you do in the building is more important than the building," he said. "I would rather see a school in a 50-year-old build with the number of teachers that you need to give a rounded education than have a beautiful monument to nothing."
Putnam added that if the project is accepted it would not necessarily mean the project is a go. He said there are benchmarks the communities must hit and if there is no will from the towns to go forward the project would die.
Before cloing, Adams Selectman Joseph Nowak said it was concerning that the MSBA keeps building more schools in the region when the state is pushing for consolidation.
"I think that makes it much harder because who is going to want to give up a beautiful new building?" he said. "Population is dropping, and I don't understand why the MSBA is allowing this to go on."