To the editor from Tom Smith

To the editor:
The Westfield Planning Board approved an elementary school that was sold to the public, and state, to relieve ‘severe overcrowding’ in the schools. The PB did not conduct any deliberations –at the meeting- in regards to the safety and legal concerns raised by the targeted neighborhood. To contrast, the PB had called Walmart officials into four meetings for an expansion of the Rt. 20 store. No houses or neighborhoods near that store. Just ONE PB for a $36 million, 96,000 square foot district school proposed to be jammed into a tiny and congested neighborhood while other land is available.
We brought these concerns to Representative Don Humason, and explained how Westfield was not following several important laws. We presented a concise description of the neighborhood’s concerns to loss of ball fields, park space, lack of safe egress in case of emergencies, and especially the fragile and questionable parking situation with the Catholic Church. The Representative listened, but told us he supported the project anyway. With the Mayor, Councilor Brown, State Senator, and State Rep. all aligned, we had no place to go but to the courts for injunctive relief.
As the Cross St. playground was being destroyed, the court granted us a restraining order to halt the project. We argued that the playground was a protected open space. Westfield’s lawyers even admitted to the judge that it was protected. A temporary injunction was soon granted.
That spring of 2012, during a School Committee meeting, the Mayor claimed Westfield’s student enrollment was on the decline and that Westfield’s population is incapable of filling the schools with it’s own population. He also stated that Westfield had spent too much money in the 1990’s trying to reduce classroom sizes and that the days of smaller class sizes were over. In his support, the School Superintendent claimed that larger class sizes, through increases the School Choice program, would be ‘a win-win’ for the city.
Why the need for another school to reduce ‘severe overcrowding’? Abner Gibbs is claimed to be outdated, but according to its web page, it is a Level 1 category school. The city hired a consultant who informed the School Committee that if Juniper Park were closed, Westfield would need another school to cover that area within 10 years. Franklin Avenue School’s web page indicates its principal believes Franklin’s a great school. Yet, Abner and Franklin, are to close.
By the way, the Mayor exclaimed at two School Building Committee meetings that the new school design would fit on Ashley and Cross St. without having to take land, or to lose ball fields. He said this before the architect, or the project manager was hired. They’ve used eminent domain to take one woman’s home and property on Ashley St. They’ve destroyed ball fields and open play space.
Thomas Smith

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