Error requires second school bond vote

WESTFIELD – The City Council was required Thursday night to vote, again, to approve the $36,931,394 bond for the construction of a new elementary school at Ashley Street. The bond was originally approved by the council at its Nov. 4, 2011 session.
City Clerk Karen Fanion said the repeat of the second reading and final vote to approve the bond by the council was necessary because of an error made when the bond document was published as a legal advertisement.
The vote did give At-large Councilor Agma Sweeney an opportunity to express her concern about the impact of the school project on the Cross Street neighborhood and on the Franklin Avenue families who opposed moving their children to the proposed school to be constructed at the corner of Cross and Ashley streets.
Sweeney, who was sworn into office Tuesday, said she has spoken with Cross Street residents about the traffic impact the new school will have on that neighborhood and with parents of Franklin Avenue Elementary School students who “don’t want that school closed.”
Ward 3 Councilor Peter J. Miller Jr., in whose ward the Franklin Avenue school is located, said he supports the new school because of the deteriorated condition of the Franklin Avenue and Abner Gibbs schools.
“The people who live downtown deserve to have a school that can compete with other schools in the city,” Miller said. “I have a concern that the new school be located downtown. This school will help stabilize the downtown.”
Ward 2 Councilor James E. Brown Jr., in whose ward the proposed school would be constructed, said the schools to be closed do not have the facilities or space to support education programs currently in practice.
“This will be an urban school,” Brown said. “It is the type of building the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority) is looking to build across the state in urban areas.”
Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell said she is “not in love with this project, but I will support it because the clock is ticking for the Juniper Park students in my ward.”
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty said that he “feels” for the residents of the neighborhood who claim that their concerns were not given sufficient consideration in the siting and design of the proposed building.
“But we need a new school and this project is cash flow neutral,” Flaherty said. “Many people feel they are losing their neighborhood school and there is a perception this (project) is hurting those (Abner Gibbs and Franklin Avenue) neighborhoods. I’m sorry for the way this was pushed through.”
The council voted 21-1 to approve the bond. The MSBA has committed $23 million for the project, while the city’s share will be about $13 million. However the council had to approve bonding for the entire amount because the MSBA funding will be provided through a reimbursement program and the project cannot be put off or construction bids without a secure funding source.

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