Ad-hoc committee lists top five options

WESTFIELD – A new ad-hoc subcommittee of the Westfield School Committee charged with vetting potential sites for modular classrooms to house students currently enrolled at Juniper Park Elementary School unveiled its top five choices before a crowd of almost 30 people at City Hall last night.
The ad-hoc committee, made up of Westfield School Committee Vice Chair Cindy Sullivan, Finance Chair Kevin Sullivan and chaired by committee member Ray Diaz, listed South Middle School, the Westfield Boys and Girls Club and leasing the vacant Russell Elementary School as the top three potential sites for students of Juniper Park while the school constructs a new elementary school to replace the Western Avenue elementary school and others in the city.
Other less-favorable options included parking lots at Highland and Franklin Avenue elementary schools, while other ideas that were previously offered have been discarded.
“We explored again staying at the university, but as the mayor and the School Committee addressed at our last meeting, that is absolutely not an option,” said Westfield Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Scallion. “We then explored the Moseley School and the cost to rehabilitate Moseley to bring it to MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority) code in 2014 would be prohibitive.”
Scallion said the school has many structural issues, while the empty  Holy Trinity School was deemed too small for Juniper Park’s relocation needs.
She added that the thought of moving Juniper’s fifth graders to the city’s middle schools was considered but there wouldn’t be enough space due to 13 special education programs which occupy an individual classroom at Juniper.
So far, prices have been listed for only three of the committee’s options, though Scallion did not divulge any figures.
“The other two prices are estimates that we will have by Thursday night,” she said, prefacing it by adding the ad-hoc’s next scheduled meeting on Thursday night would be cancelled if those estimates do not become concrete.
Diaz told the audience that he had visited the Russell School and that it seemed like a “nice option.”
“I know that South Middle has a big plot of land in the back and we know that is an option,” he said.
Diaz raised a question about the set up of the modular classrooms, which Scallion answered by describing the various ways they can be set up for students.
“It could be a conglomerate, you can attach all of the portables together, you can have them as standalones,” she said. “The sky’s the limit in terms of how you can assemble those.”
Scallion also requested that no parents or community members contact any site vendors until the committee has arrived at a decision.
Kevin Sullivan asked just how many modules would be required for the site, to which Scallion replied that for Franklin, Highland and South, they would need a “full contingent.”
“We would need 12 classrooms and then a smaller double – for some of our intervention programs, the nurse, office area.” she said. “The beauty of the Boys and Girls Club is you have that gym area and that cafeteria area, six classrooms and a computer lab.”
Kevin Sullivan also addressed potential concerns relating to possibly shipping students to the Russell Elementary School.
“This is something that has been kicked around for awhile, but there’s a lot of issues that we don’t answers to at that site, primarily that we’d be sending kids out of town,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we’d have to get clarified from the state as to how that is going to work. If there is a snow day and Gateway calls off, what happens to our kids?”
Sullivan added that the school is still the property of the town of Russell and that the Westfield School District would be leasing it directly from the town.
“It is exactly 6.1 miles from the front door of Juniper Park,” said Scallion of the Russell school. “It’s fairly flat, not very hilly. It’s on a state highway. However, we’re crossing city lines. The school is controlled by the (Russell) Select Board and we would have to work with the state. MSBA would have to approve it as acceptable… there are a lot of hurdles that we’d have to cross in order to use that, but we’re going to explore every possibility.”
Committee members encouraged those community members in attendance to check out the five prospective sites.
Diaz clarified for the crowd that the ad-hoc committee would make recommendations for the full school committee, who will then vote on said recommendations.
“We’re just trying to weed down the options and we’re going to structure it such that there’s a number one, two and three,” he said. “We’re going to be very clear and up front and we encourage you (parents) to come give us your input.”
“There’s been a lot of rumors and made up stories and I know it can be really challenging,” said Cindy Sullivan. “My truth is what I know right now. It changes from day-to-day, sometimes, but I tell you the truth as I know it.”
“I’ve heard rumors that we’ve already decided what we’re going to do. I haven’t voted yet, Mr. Diaz hasn’t voted yet, Mr. Sullivan… none of us have voted.” she continued. “We need to make a decision thats fiscally responsible that makes the most sense for the students with all the information on the data. That’s how I make my decisions, but I don’t have all the information, so I can’t even tell you what my number one option is.”
Diaz stated that the ad-hoc committee’s goal is to have the entire selection process done by the end of October.
“I’m cautious, but that is our goal,” he said, with Scallion concluding that she expects the modular site to be the home for Juniper Park’s students for ‘at least two years’ wherever it is approved.
“At the most, I would hope three (years),” she said. “That’s what I’m working with right now.”
Scallion instructed attendees to check the school department’s website and added that, if Thursday evening’s ad-hoc meeting is cancelled, a banner will run on the website and that, in the event of cancellation, the meeting would then be held on the next Thursday, October 9.

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