Adams Officials Wary of New School Project
The board members were updated at Tuesday's workshop meeting on the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District's statement of interest submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The school district's SOI related to the needs at what is now Hoosac Valley Elementary School on Commercial Street.
There was some uncertainty on the board's part that building a new elementary school would be the best solution.
"We support this process to continue but we have our concerns," Chairman John Duval told Superintendent John Vosburgh and School Committee Chairman Paul Butler. "We want to move forward."
Earlier this year, the district submitted an SOI, as most districts typically do each year. However, this time the district was accepted into the first round of reviews being made by MSBA representatives.
They will tour the former C.T. Plunkett school later this month and conduct a senior study to gather information about the condition of the building and the need, if any, for an MSBA-led project.
Vosburgh said the district will know in three to four months whether it has been accepted into the program's eligibility phase, during which a school building committee would be formed and certain information provided to the MSBA. At the end of this 270-day phase, the MSBA could move the project to the feasibility phase upon approval by local authorities and meeting funding requirements for the next stage of studies.
Vosburgh and Butler both noted that the district is still very early in the process.
"These things take 10 or more years to complete and the initial SOI doesn't always get accepted," Butler said. "It can take multiple efforts but as any board should do we need to identify issues within our current buildings and look forward to state assistance."
The SOI must include different options and the district submitted a renovation of Hoosac Valley Elementary or a new-build project.
The Selectmen did not necessarily believe a new building would be the best answer for the school district or the town.
"We have been through this before, and before we renovated Hoosac Valley, the exodus began," said Duval, who served on the School Committee for 17 years and supported the $41 million Hoosac Valley High School renovation completed in 2012. "We had the brand-new school with everything modern and we believed if we built it they would come, and we would get these kids back ... building a new school is not a guarantee."
Adams-Cheshire, like most school districts in the county, has seen a steady loss in enrollment that's only expected to intensify. The district overall has lost more than 200 students and closed a school.
That had town officials wary of building new when the county is facing steady population decline and although the Hoosac Valley building project would likely be almost off the books by the time a new build project would begin, funding a new school may be a hard sell in both communities.
The Selectmen also had concerns about eventually closing the last school in Adams, which once had six, and having another vacant school in the downtown.
"It's about community character. The students walk to school ... and it gives a great feeling of community," Duval said. "We would no longer have a public school in our town we will lose the last public school that we have."
The district's middle school on Columbia Street was closed when the renovated high school opened and has sat vacant since. In 2016, the School Committee voted to close Cheshire Elementary School and consolidate all students to Hoosac Valley Elementary School and Hoosac Valley Middle and High School, which is in Cheshire although part of the grounds is in Adams.
Selectman Joseph Nowak said losing the school would be a hit to the community but felt that asking Cheshire to fund a renovation at Hoosac Valley Elementary School would not be supported.
"It makes our community and I don't want us to be struggling in the future with a building when I think it meets the needs of our students," Nowak said. "I think we can continue to work together and fix it but I believe asking Cheshire to help us put money into C.T. Plunkett is a hard sell ... It is going to be a fight."
Although Plunkett was renovated in the 1990s, it has had a number of maintenance issues most notably various leaks in the roof and problems with the heating system.
The town has been funding repairs at the school on its own and Nowak suggested that this may be the best course of action for the time being.
Vosburgh said there is an accelerated repair program that provides funds for smaller projects such as new windows, new roofs, and new boilers. He said this may also be something to look at.
"We might want to see what that involves," he said. "I know it is a quicker turnaround and we can ask the question and see the pros and cons."
Butler went on to say that there was a desire in Cheshire to move to a one-campus district and agreed that its residents most likely would not support a Hoosac Valley Elementary School renovation project.
"I don't think they will want to invest in the Plunkett building and I think if there is an option for a one campus district that has half a shot," Butler said. "The compromise could be a single campus district and that may be the only way we get building project funding and Adams may not support that, but we need to get to that phase where we can see what will be supported."
Vosburgh reiterated that any decision would be a long way off and that district needs to continue the process just to get to the point where it can discuss options.
"Options will evolve, and a one-campus option will certainly be part of the equation, but that part is in the next step," he said. "The need and the ability to fund is where we are at this point."
Nowak reiterated that he thought it may take years for the rift between the two communities to subside and felt any project could be affected by this conflict.
"This whole thing that happened with Adams and Cheshire is like a messy divorce and the thing is I don't really believe that Cheshire will agree with this," Nowak said. "I know we have to go forward but I worry about putting in a lot of efforts just to have nothing happen ... I think it is going to take a number of years for the dust to settle."
Tags: ACRSD, MSBA,
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