by Maria Kopicki and Toni Cunningham
Editor’s note: This commentary also appeared in The Amherst Bulletin on 8/2/19.
Last week, the Amherst Bulletin reported on Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman’s concerns that the Crocker Farm Expansion Study could be premature and the information gathered “might be outdated if the town is not accepted into the MSBA process this year.”
As the resident petitioners, we proposed the study to learn if Crocker Farm could be renovated to accommodate a larger enrollment and at what cost. Knowing what’s possible at Crocker Farm is a missing key piece of information in the complicated elementary school buildings puzzle.
We believe there is nothing to be gained and much time and money to be lost by waiting until next year to begin the study.
No one has contested that this study should be done; it is only the timing that has been questioned. We anticipate the study would take four months and, if completed this fall, would:
- provide more accurate cost information for the Town Council to use in major capital project planning;
- inform the group that is exploring educating 6th graders at the Middle School, before they finish their work in January (if a 560-student Crocker Farm is ruled out, 6th grade would have to move to ARMS if school consolidation occurs);
- avoid the likely delays of getting a study off the ground during the holiday season, with a newly elected school committee busy finding its feet and (hopefully) a new MSBA process also getting started;
- provide crucial enrollment information needed in the first few months of a new MSBA process;
- and, if Amherst is not accepted into the pipeline this year, provide information in time to refine a new Statement of Interest, due in April.
Concerns that the information will become outdated are unfounded. The site is not going to change and the enrollments to be studied are actually forward-looking, anticipating multiple possible scenarios. Cost estimates can be adjusted for varying start years in the same way the Finance Committee is doing for the figures from Feasibility Studies for the other major capital projects.
This is a relatively small investment, already approved by the Town Council that, if employed in a timely manner, will contribute greatly to collective decision making and speed up a future MSBA process, saving the Town money. Let’s get started now.
Maria Kopicki and Toni Cunningham are both parents of children in the Amherst school system and have served on the Facilities Use Advisory Board that studied Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) and Amherst Regional High School (ARHS). Kopicki is currently a member of the Fort River School Building Feasibility Study Committee and Cunningham is on the Middle School Grade Span Advisory Board.