CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Selectmen have agreed that they would not support a renovation project at Hoosac Valley Elementary School to address deferred maintenance.
Selectman Robert Ciskowski last week shared his notes with the board from a recent tour of the former C.T. Plunkett School in Adams with representatives of the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
His perception was that the proposed renovation or building project seems to be moving quicker than anticipated and he said the state wants to know if the regional school district wants to move into the next phase of the project.
"This was fast-tracking and has gone a lot further than I thought … frankly, I didn't think it would come upon this quickly and it caught me off guard," Ciskowski said. "I got the sense that they didn't think we were ready."
The Adams-Cheshire Regional School District submitted its 2018 Statement of Interest to the MSBA earlier this year and was surprised to find that it was one of the 28 districts selected for an initial survey.
MSBA representatives toured the elementary school to see if a project was needed and would be supported by the community. The century-old building was last renovated and added onto in 1994; the school district completed a $41 million renovation of the Hoosac Valley High and Middle School in 2012.
When Cheshire Elementary School was closed in 2016, school officials said the best solution would be to build a new school on the Hoosac Valley campus straddling the two towns' border off Route 116. Although an MSBA application would surely include this option as well as the renovation of an existing school, some Adams officials said they do not want to close another school in the downtown.
Ciskowski outlined his tour and noted that the school is in much worse condition than he originally thought.
He said there are multiple leaks in the roof that have not yet been addressed.
"Nine roof leaks in the gym. Kids run around pails," he said. "Eleven leaks in the auditorium and water in the art room. There is water leaking down the elevator shaft and collecting and water leaking in the electrical service area."
He said he was also alarmed by the lack of security cameras and the continually bursting pipes that have led to evacuations and alarms sounding.
"There was actually an alarm on the entire time I was there in the main office on the fire panel," he said. "I guess it had been on for several days."
Ciskowski said temperatures were unstable throughout the building and plumbing issues persist. He said music class is held in a dark auditorium and there are no science or computer labs.
Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said this in an issue if the district wants to rebrand itself as a tech district.
"No computer or science lab yet we are told that we are pushing these STEM projects," she said.
Ciskowski said there was also a concern with windows.
"There are windowless places, and a lot of windows don't open," he said. "Some windows that open have no screen and it takes Hercules to open some of them."
Ciskowski said he wished the initial tours in 2016 when they were deciding which school to close were this thorough.
"I think the school's shortfalls affect education and I wish both buildings were critiqued like this by an outside agency before the decision as made," he said.
Ciskowski said Adams officials attended the tour and they made clear they did not want to close another school in their downtown.
"They do not want another downtown school to close that would be the case if a new elementary school was built," he said. "They noted Adams has already closed many elementary schools over the years …so they wanted credit for that … we consolidated much earlier than that to a central school in the 1920s."
Ciskowski added that Adams still has a downtown and by closing Cheshire Elementary School, the town's only social hub was eliminated.
"If Memorial School closing affected them, imagine how closing Cheshire School effected Cheshire," he said of the former middle school on Columbia Street in Adams that closed in 2009. "I was told we were going through a healing time and I almost came out of my chair. I said closing the school was the cherry on top of the sundae, there has been tension between us for some time."
Francesconi said she had no issues paying for repairs at Hoosac Valley Elementary if they were to address issues that have occurred after the consolidation, however she had no interest in funding maintenance issues the town of Adams never addressed.
"If they put repairs to Plunkett in the district budget that Cheshire has to pay for – we have to look for that because we were told Adams would take care of repairs so the repairs should not be included in the budget," she said. "I mean things that happen now yes but not these old problems … I am not ready to repair Plunkett."
Ciskowksi said the MSBA will hold a conference call with both communities in the near future to see if they are interested in officially entering the next phase of the process during which they create a study committee and hire a consultant.
Either way, an MSBA project from start to finish would likely take several years if the project is even accepted.
Francesconi said the town wants to do what is best for the children.
"An MSBA project that repairs things that should have been fixed before is not something we can support," she said. "I think we want to do what is best for the education of the children and will support something that benefits the entire district."
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Cheshire Selectmen Eye Salary Increases in FY21 Budget
By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The fiscal 2021 budget preparation dominated at Tuesday night's Selectmen's meeting.
Aside from reviewing the Board of Health and Council on Aging operating budgets, the board discussed at length what some members see as stagnant salaries for many town positions.
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV recently undertook a salary study with input from the Massachusetts Municipal Association's Human Resources department. Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi feels Cheshire has fallen behind other similar communities in compensating it's employees.
"Based on feedback that we received at the town meeting last year, a concerted effort has been made by the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee towards improving the overall salary structure of our town. We have been undercompensating our employees, we do recognize that, and it's something we are looking to address," she said to the virtual attendees.