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Cheshire to See If Reopening School Possible

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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The Advisory Board discusses the future of the elementary school building with the Selectmen last week.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town will seek more information on whether reopening Cheshire Elementary School is financially and logistically viable.
The Advisory Board met with the Selectmen last week to discuss the reuse of the school and what the direction the town plans to take. The elementary school was closed in June as part of cost cutting and consolidations in the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District.
"We just want to make sure we are on the same page with the reuse committee and understand our role," Advisory Board member Justin Kruszyna said at Tuesday's meeting. "We just want to establish some context and make sure are all have the same end goal."
The town formed a School Reuse Committee to establish possible new uses for the now vacant school. Selectwoman Carol Francesconi, who serves on the committee, said the committee, thus far, has only met once and is exploring options.
"We have a broad spectrum of people on this committee from mothers, teachers and everything else," she said. "Reopening the school was discussed along with other options but we don't have an opinion yet. We are still seeking information."  
Advisory Board member E. Richard "Dick" Scholz suggested gathering more information on what the costs and process would be to independently run the school, pull out of the regional school district or to join another district.
"I just think we need more context before we go out and ask what the residents want," he said. "We don't want to make a decision on blind emotion and we are willing to provide some broadband and do some of the legwork for you." 
Kruszyna agreed and said if reopening the school is not a possibility they should look at other options instead of wasting time.
"There is still a lot of energy out there to reopen the school and if it is going to take two to three years I think it would be good to know the steps and if we can afford it," he said. "But if we can't we need to forget about it and move on with the reuse committee."
Scholz asked how the district agreement amendment process fits into the equation. The town had been looking at amending the agreement to independently fund its elementary rather than the current proportional mechanism that forces Adams to raise its spending along with Cheshire.
Selectman Edmund St. John IV, who serves on the committee, said the process has not started yet and it will take some time. He said if the town wanted to pull out of the district completely it would be a totally different process that needs approval from both towns.
Scholz asked if it was possible to amend the current agreement to allow Cheshire to be more flexible and add a provision that would allow the town to reopen the school or leave the district.
Selectman Robert Ciskowski said it may be too early in the process to mark anything in stone but the town should keep all its options open. 
"My take on it is I think we have multiple irons in the fire at once ... and I would not want to reopen the school and in a few years, find out it is not going to work," he said. "I think for now we just have to keep all channels open." 
The Advisory Board said they would seek out information from communities with their own school.
Francesconi said the reuse committee did discuss moving the Town Hall offices to the school building, however, Town Administrator Mark Webber said this would be difficult and expensive.
"It is a little more involved than moving desks, computers and files," he said. "You can't just fill up a truck and drive it over."  
Webber said the change in use from educational to business would trigger building code changes. This would mean asbestos abatement, a sprinkler system, complete handicapped accessibility as well as other costly alterations.
Ciskowski said he thought it was odd the standards were so different.
"I would think that those things, while it was an educational facility, would have been in place," he said. "I would be more worried about the young students than us in there." 
Before meeting with the Advisory Board, St. John suggested a new meeting format that would allow the selectmen to have a defined time to discuss their own business. 
"A lot of what gives us our character is that we are so accessible and it is a great thing but we are using up a lot of time on things that shouldn't come before us," he said. "Lets really craft some agendas and look at a calendar and figure things out, like when we discuss the budget."   
Currently, the selectmen hear residents' concerns as they walk in throughout the night. Earlier this month, Ciskowski said he felt the selectmen could get more done if they had time set aside just for business. 
Next week, the Selectmen will hear the town administrator's and highway superintendent's report from 6:30 to 7 p.m. During this time, the Selectmen will field questions from residents as they usually do.
From 7 to 8, the board will close the public comment period and discuss its own business as laid out on the agenda.

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