School board targets science facilities

WESTFIELD – The School Committee voted last night to focus on science and technology improvements at Westfield High School (WHS) and Westfield Vocational Technical High School (WVTHS) as part of the annual Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) process of identifying district priorities for state funding.
Mayor Daniel M. Knapik said this morning that the School Committee identified the construction of a new science and math wing at Westfield High School, and the renovation of science and computer laboratories at Westfield Vocational Technical High School, as the priority projects for which the district will seek MSBA funding.
The SOI will now go to the City Council, perhaps for Thursday’s agenda, for review and approval because the MSBA provides about 60 percent of project costs in reimbursements. The city is required to appropriate the entire cost to initiate the projects, and after MSBA reimbursements, will fund about 40 percent of the total cost.
The science wing at WHS was the district’s top priority until the elementary school project was identified as the primary funding goal for the city. That project entails closing two existing neighborhood elementary schools, Abner Gibbs and Franklin Avenue, and removing students from Juniper Park Elementary School, which is owned by Westfield State University and needed to house the growing number of programs at that institution.
The city applied for a 20,600 square foot addition to WHS last year when the MSBA dedicated $60 million as part of an initiative to address the need to improve science instruction in schools throughout the state. The city was not selected to apply under that program.
The wing addition plan, which includes the addition of 14 new classrooms, will also allow for future reconfiguration of the existing building. The science wing projected cost is about $5.7 million, based on a rough construction estimate of $275 per square foot.
The WVTHS project is more modest, about $500,000 to refurbish the facilities of three existing science and technology laboratories. That work will include upgrading electrical and plumbing systems to expand gas lines and sinks. That work may also entail moving walls within the structure.
The two projects will be presented independently to the MSBA for consideration of funding
Frank Maher, director of maintenance, transportation and food services, said the SOI allows the city to make its case to the MSBA for that funding.
“It allows us to tell the MSBA that we are interested, that we have this need,” Maher said, “but it’s a long process, probably a couple of years down the line before they’re considered for funding.”

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