Community forum to discuss East Longmeadow High School options, schedule
EAST LONGMEADOW – Residents will have another opportunity to weigh in on the future of East Longmeadow High School during a public forum on Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Pleasant View Senior Center. East Longmeadow Public Schools Superintendent Gordon Smith said it would also be an opportunity to educate the town on the long and complex process behind a shiny new school.
Smith told Reminder Publishing that residents are frustrated that there hasn’t been more publicly visible progress on the high school project. “People ask me, ‘when will we have a new school,'” he said, but noted that the future of high school might not look like what they expect.
The city and district work with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), a semiautonomous state agency that helps districts fund expensive school building projects. The multi-step operation involves the MSBA agreeing to reimburse municipalities for a percentage of their project costs, although not all costs are eligible for reimbursement.
In the spring, the neighborhood was accepted into a feasibility study, which could take up to 15 months. “We’re kind of in the middle,” Smith said. The MSBA agreed to reimburse East Longmeadow for 56% of eligible costs for the $1.6 million price of the feasibility study.
As part of the feasibility study, a visioning workshop was carried out in June. Between in-person and online participation, there were approximately 75 residents in attendance. Smith said feedback during the workshop, along with a survey and interviews with staff, showed significant overlap in what the community is looking for in a reimagined high school.
Through the upcoming forum, the School Construction Committee will be able to gather more information from stakeholders to further refine the data it already has.
Smith quoted School Building Committee Chairman Stephen Chrusciel as saying, “This is a generational opportunity,” to impact the city and the children educated there for decades to come.
The other benefit of the forum, Smith said, is that residents will learn about the multi-year process and better understand how long it will take and what to expect at the end.
During the last week of August, the school construction committee submitted a 618-page preliminary design report to the MSBA, which outlined four general options for the high school. The first of these four options is a limited upgrade that would only bring the building up to code without regard to space or conditions. The second option would renovate and modernize the school’s existing footprint and create an addition as needed for the space.
There are also two options for a completely new building. One would move the building to a central position on the high school campus, with the central office, East Longmeadow IT department and East Longmeadow Cable Access Television (ELCAT) included in the structure, similar to the current situation. The final option allows for a new school building with a separate on-campus building for district-level, IT, and ELCAT administrative offices, as well as a swimming pool.
The latter option has caveats, as the MSBA would likely not reimburse the city to the same extent for pool-related work. This would be a community project which, in turn, would be made available to the community, similar to how city residents use the school track.
Smith said a benefit of the new construction would be that the committee could optimize the location of sports fields, parking and bus pick-up and drop-off, resulting in greater efficiency and a better experience. on campus for everyone.
In addition to options for project scope, the Preliminary Design Report included an overview of the city’s capital planning process, gaps in the current building and campus, an overview of high school programs, and a vision of future school programs.
The report was the first of several documents that will need to be sent to the MSBA over the next seven months. After the MSBA exam in April, the school construction committee will enter the “schematic design phase”. From there, the committee will have much more accurate estimates of the cost of each option and can choose one to offer to the MSBA.
Smith remarked, “Hopefully we’ll have a building that we’ll enjoy for the next 50 to 60 years.”