WESTFIELD – The City Council Oct. 3 unanimously approved the first reading of a measure to fund a$900,000 study for the Franklin Avenue Elementary School project. The second reading and final passage will take place at the next City Council meeting on Oct. 17.
Both Long Range Finance, chaired by At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty, and Legislative & Ordinance, chaired by Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski, recommended approval of feasibility study after meetings earlier this week.
Speaking first Thursday night, Flaherty said he had “an army” of district and city officials at his meeting on Wednesday. Among them was Mayor Brian P. Sullivan who said the feasibility study is step four in a long acceptance process by the Massachusetts School Building Aulthority (MSBA). He said a lot of towns are not at the table, because they didn’t make it this far.
“Westfield is prime for a new elementary school. The numbers show it, Abner Gibbs and Franklin Avenue show it,” Sullivan said at that meeting. He also explained that the city has to have the money up front for the study, but after the 67 to 70% reimbursement rate, the cost to the city will be between two and three hundred thousand.
Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said the district had done its due diligence with communicating to the public, including meeting with staff and parents. He said a community survey showed 88% support for the project.
Also at the Long Range Finance meeting, City Purchase Tammy Tefft also said that she planned to take steps to bring the cost of the study down. She said the study will take two years, and MSBA will work through each step with the district.
Chief Finance Officer Ronald R. Rix said that the outcome from the MSBA will be to create the most cost effective and educationally sound solution to the city’s educational needs. He said the district doesn’t know what that will look like, whether renovation of the existing school, renovation with an addition, or a rebuild.
During the City Council discussion Thursday, Flaherty said the city can afford to do the study, and must to satisfy the MSBA.
At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III, who also serves on Long Range Finance, said he was impressed by the amount of work and detail the district has already done. “I would also like to encourage 100% of the people to vote for this,” he told the councilors. That request had come during the finance meeting from School Committee member Cindy Sullivan, who asked that the councilors show the MSBA that the city is committed to the educational needs of the future.
“I agree with Councilor Beltrandi. The kids in my ward need a new school,” said Ward 3 Councilor Andrew K. Surprise.
“It’s important to mention that the $900,000 comes with 25% design plans; architectural renderings of the school,” said At-large Councilor Matthew Emmershy.
“As Council liaison to the schools, I have not seen support as high,” said Council President Ralph J. Figy.
During his positive recommendation from the L&O committee, Onyski said that Westfield is in the final year of payment on the bonds for the renovations done in 1999 to the middle schools. “My personal thought is that this is a great step. I fully support it,” Onyski said.
Onyski then made a motion for a vote on the first reading, which passed unanimously.