March 31, 2017
Dear MSBA Board of Directors and Executive Director McCarthy:
We would like to officially inform you that the Town has been forced to forego the award of a Maximum Facilities Grant of $34.4 million for construction of two co-located elementary schools at the Wildwood School site in the Town of Amherst.
We believe, and the MSBA agreed, that the Town clearly demonstrated the need for new schools to replace the Fort River and Wildwood schools. The School Building Committee, with extensive community input, developed a creative, educationally sound plan for all Amherst students that addressed the challenging physical environmentsour educators work in daily and offered innovative solutions to the uneven socio-economic distribution of our families; how we service students with intensive special needs and English Language Learners; and lack of affordable, high quality early education options.
The MSBA supported the plan, and for that we are grateful. In addition, the School Building Committee supported that plan, as did the Amherst School Committee, Amherst Select Board, Amherst Finance Committee, and our local legislators (Senate President Rosenberg and Representatives Story and Goldstein-Rose). The voters approved a debt exclusion override in November to exempt the debt for the project from the limits of Proposition
2 1⁄2. But the Town was unable to secure the supermajority needed for borrowing from the Amherst Town Meeting, despite two efforts, nor a citizen-initiated referendum for Town residents to override the town meeting vote, prompted by a significant effort by members of our community to support this plan. While the votes at both the January Town Meeting and this week’s referendum exceeded a majority, neither reached the two-thirds threshold. While many in the community and in the Town leadership are disappointed in this result, we recognize the need to regroup and re-engage our various stakeholder groups including educators, parents and guardians, community members, and appointed and elected leaders.
Our goal is to submit Statements of Interest to the MSBA in 2018 requesting a Feasibility Study to begin the process of addressing our significant infrastructure needs. In the meantime, we will be seeking Town funds to conduct a site and building assessment at Fort River School, as well as to immediately address the critical need for a new boiler at Wildwood. These are significant funds the Town will be requesting at the Annual Town Meeting that starts in just a few weeks.
We would like to thank you for the tremendous support, guidance, and effort that the MSBA staff and Board of Directors have provided the Town of Amherst for the Wildwood Elementary Building Project. Amherst is an actively engaged community, and we appreciate your responsiveness to citizen inquiries and attention to the unique concerns of our town. While the loss of this opportunity to build new facilities for our community’s students is very unfortunate, the professionalism and expertise of the MSBA’s staff and organization, which
guided us through this rigorous process, has led us to deeply examine our educational needs and priorities as a community.
In particular, we appreciated the MSBA’s flexibility in allowing for multiple and atypical enrollment options.
Although not required or mandated, as per your bylaws, you allowed us to look at options that replaced both the outdated Wildwood Elementary School facility that had been accepted into the process, as well as Fort River Elementary School. The plan that was developed, which would have replaced both facilities, was a generous offer on your part that needs acknowledgement and appreciation.
We would also like to offer feedback about our work with JCJ Architecture and NV/5. These members of our project team were exemplary partners whose flexibility, ingenuity, and dedication were critical throughout the entire process, and the MSBA’s support through the selection of both the OPM and the Designer was incredibly helpful to the Building Committee.
We are saddened that the time, effort, and resources put into this project by the MSBA will not result in an improved experience for the students of Amherst, but the experience of going through your thorough process will benefit our approach as we move forward from this disappointing result.
Dr. Michael Morris Paul Bockelman Phoebe Hazzard
Superintendent Town Manager Vice-Chair, Amherst School Committee
Senate President Stan Rosenberg
Amherst School Committee
Amherst Select Board
Wildwood School Building Committee
Jim LaPosta, Chief Architectural Officer, JCJ Architecture