New 3-story elementary school to be built at Fort River site

By Sarah Marshall

In a unanimous vote, the Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC) decided Monday morning to nominate a new, 3-story building at the Fort River School site that will consolidate the Wildwood and Fort River schools as the “preferred solution” to the Massachusetts School Building Association. Once the choice is submitted over the next few weeks as part of the Preferred Schematic Report, DiNisco Design architects will begin designing the building in detail.

The principal reasons for choosing the Fort River site over the Wildwood site were less disruption to students and staff during construction, and more outdoor space available to the school and community.

Three different votes preceded this unanimous decision.

Before voting on the preferred solution, the ESBC voted to eliminate the addition/renovation options (8-1 with 3 absent and one unable to vote because of technical problems). Chair Cathy Schoen explained that this vote, taken at the previous committee meeting, was valid, even though she had thought at the time that a quorum was not present. The chief reason was the high costs of such a project, nearly the cost of an entirely new school.

Second, the committee voted unanimously to prefer a new, 3-story option at either site to a 2-story building.   Reasons for favoring 3- over 2-story options were the smaller footprints (a particular concern at Wildwood), more efficient travel within the building, and the small-school feel allowed by locating paired grades on separate floors. All options would have been designed to fulfill the Amherst School District’s educational requirements, the zero net energy bylaw, and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Third, the committee voted 8-5 to choose the Fort River site. Reasons given by those who favored the Wildwood site included more manageable vehicular traffic, more and safer pedestrian routes, adjacency to the Middle School, distance from a flood plain, and lower cost.

But once the site was chosen, the committee voted unanimously to recommend a new 3-story building at Fort River.

All committee members, including the Superintendent of Schools, the Town Manager, school principals, the Town’s finance director, Amherst School Committee members, Town Councilors, and community members pledged their full support – in advance – to whichever project was ultimately chosen, and reiterated their support after their votes. They committed to building support in the community for the override through education and outreach.

Several members of the public, including more Town Councilors and Amherst School Committee officials, expressed their delight, enthusiasm, and support, as well as their sincere thanks to the ESBC for its extraordinary effort in bringing the community to this point.

Chair Cathy Schoen stated that the committee will have no difficulty in completing the report to MSBA well in advance of the August MSBA meeting, at which it will evaluate our preferred option.

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