Work on elementary school building project continues

Franklin Avenue Elementary School. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – The School Building Committee met this week to review the preliminary design for renovations to Franklin Avenue Elementary School.

The preliminary plan is the result of recent visioning discussions.

Owner’s Project Manager Dan Pallotta of P-Three, Inc. said the work is on schedule with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) timeline. He said the committee has completed its educational plan, which talks about the type of spaces needed in the school.

The preliminary design features classroom neighborhoods with community spaces radiating out and secure from a public zone and corridor for after hours activities. These neighborhoods include community commons and breakout spaces, student cubbies, spaces for smaller group and one-on-one interventions. The neighborhoods also include a gender neutral toilet and sensory room.

Architect Bert Gardner of Caolo & Bieniek Associates of Chicopee said he put the band and music classroom space on the stage in the cafeteria, which he has enlarged to accommodate the classroom. He said stages are underutilized spaces in schools.

There are two plans being drawn as required by the MSBA, one for just the Franklin Avenue school population and a consolidated school that includes Abner Gibbs students. Westfield’s vision is a school that accommodates both populations.

Also in both plans is space for two prekindergarten classrooms. Pallotta said the MSBA does not cover prek equipment for reimbursement. A survey of families last year showed a vast majority support the option of having prek offered at their neighborhood elementary schools.

“We know that the students that attend Franklin and Abner Gibbs have the lowest percentage of pre-k attendance in the district. We want to increase access for those students to quality pre-k education,” commented Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski after the meeting.

Both the plans for a single and for a consolidated school exceed the space allotted per student in the MSBA template. Pallotta said the MSBA allows overage, but may not reimburse for all of it. He said they will try to get maximum reimbursement for the proposal.

Discussed was a small triangular piece of land in the corner of the school property that has no clear ownership title. Committee Vice Chair Tammy Tefft said the city is trying to track down ownership of the parcel, which would be on the edge of a ballfield in the plan. She said they have gone back 50 years in a title search, with no success as yet, and will go further.

Also discussed at the meeting were two abutting homes on Franklin Avenue that the city is interested in purchasing if possible. Tefft said negotiations can’t proceed until the city solidifies where the funding will come from, which she said they hope to resolve by next week.

Building Committee Chair Mayor Donald F. Humason, Jr. said obtaining the parcels would be a home run for the project.

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