Amherst elementary school building project: update

By Allison McDonald and Cathy Schoen

The Amherst elementary school building project is now in a busy and exciting stage and a lot of work is happening over the next several months. There’s a lot to keep up with and it can be hard to follow what’s going on or to know when decisions are being made! In this column, we hope to help you learn about the work that’s happening and how you can participate in the process.

Our goal is to have the elementary school open for learning in the fall of 2026. We have multiple major milestones to meet and key decisions to make along the way. Many key milestones will need to be met within the next 12 months. Three of these are:

Preliminary Design Plan: This is when we define the options we will study, including whether to build a completely new building, renovate an existing building, or a combination of renovation and addition. We’ll also outline what locations we’ll consider (including what criteria we’ll use to decide) and describe the education program for the school.

The education program provides detailed information about our students and their needs, as well as the programs and activities that we value and that will define the school. Questions such as where our specialized programs and the Caminantes dual-language program will be located will be defined in the education program.

Our goal is to complete this Preliminary Design Plan and submit it for review and approval by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) by March 15.

Preferred Schematic Report: This is when some key project decisions are made for the project, including location and whether we will build a completely new building or some combination of renovation/addition with an existing building.

DiNisco Design, the design team for the project, is currently gathering detailed information about the Fort River and Wildwood locations, assessing the condition of those buildings, and preparing preliminary estimates to evaluate and compare options.

Our goal is to decide on our preferred option and submit the Preferred Schematic Report for review and approval by the MSBA by the end of June, 2022.

Schematic Design: After the approval of our Preferred Schematic Report, our design team will prepare detailed plans for the building. This final schematic design will enable a comprehensive cost estimation and budget, and will form the basis for the MSBA’s final determination of how much of the project cost they will fund.

Our goal is to complete and submit the Schematic Design for review and approval by the MSBA by the end of December, 2022.

These three big milestones and decisions need input and feedback from our school and town community. There are multiple ways for the community to engage throughout this year. Here are some:

  • Visioning Workshops: these sessions enable participants to offer input to help guide the development of the education program. The aim with these workshops is to identify priorities that build on the current curriculum and aspirations for programs. Three workshops have been held in January with the community, teachers, and staff; a fourth workshop is planned for February 17.
  • Community Forums: forums are a way to hear updates about the project and to ask questions or provide feedback in real time. Forums will be held several times throughout this year with the first happening on February 3, this Thursday, 6:30-9:00 p.m. Here is the Zoom link for that meeting, ID: 921 7679 9133.
  • Project Website: the project website is a one-stop spot to find all the information about the elementary school building project. Details about participating in the Visioning Workshop and Community Forums can be found there. It is also where to go to ask questions, give feedback, or share ideas at any time throughout the project. The Building Committee and the project team will be “listening” and responding through the tools on the website.
  • Public Comment: community members can offer feedback during public comment at meetings of the Building Committee or the Amherst School Committee. Find out how on the project website.
  • Email: questions and feedback are always welcome through email! Send email to the Building Committee at or to the Committee Chair, Cathy Schoen at

We are at an exciting phase of the project. We have the opportunity, as a community, to create and invest in an inspiring, climate-resilient elementary school building that supports excellent education both today and for decades to come. We hope that many people across the Amherst community will participate and help us make this happen.

Cathy Schoen is a member of the Amherst Town Council-District 1 and Chair of the Elementary School Building Committee. She can be reached at Allison McDonald is Chair of the Amherst School Committee and can be reached at

From the editors: The next meeting of the Elementary School Building Committee is this Friday, February 4, from 8:30-10:00 a.m. Here is the Zoom link. On the agenda: DiNisco Preliminary Findings Report to Committee: Review Existing Conditions & Site Analysis for Both Sites, Review Preliminary Alternatives Diagrams on Both Sites; Revised Priority, Evaluation Criteria/Options: Decide on Method for Ranking; Upcoming ESBC Schedule and Agendas for Preliminary Design Program Submission: DiNisco Present Plans for Feb 18, March 4, and March 11, March 11 Target Date for Committee Review and Vote on Preliminary Design Program; Report of Net-Zero Subcommittee Meeting of Jan. 13.

Please share information about the project with your friends and neighbors.