DiNisco Selected As Designer For Elementary School Project

DiNisco designed the Hurld Wyman Elementary School in Woburn, MA, a $35 million project completed in 2018 that consolidated two schools into one 410-student K-5 elementary school. Photo: Elementary School Building Committee.

Boston-based architecture firm, DiNisco Design will design Amherst’s elementary school building project. At a meeting of the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s (MSBA) Designer Selection Panel on November 16, DiNisco scored highest of the three firms shortlisted for interview. JCJ with Moody Nolan were one point behind DiNisco, while LPA|A ranked third.

The three Amherst representatives on the 15-person panel — Superintendent Michael Morris, School Committee member Ben Herrington, and Town Councilor and Building Committee Chairperson Cathy Schoen — all ranked DiNisco their top choice, JCJ with Moody Nolan second, and LPA|A third. 

Town Manager Paul Bockelman will negotiate a design fee with DiNisco, and a contract is expected to be signed within a few days.

In the presentation to the panel, DiNisco President Donna DiNisco spoke about the firm’s relevant experience which included the net-zero Lexington Children’s Place and Maria Hastings Elementary School in Lexington, and the net-zero-ready Cabot Elementary School in Newton, a renovation and addition project. 

Tim Cooper, DiNisco Project Manager, and Environmental Permitting consultant Amy Ball presented initial evaluations of the Fort River and Wildwood sites, noting that both sites are viable for new construction or an addition/renovation project. 

The lead architect for the Maria Hastings school, Vivian Low, emphasized the importance of the Educational Program which drives the building design. “We will not be coming with preconceived ideas,” Low said. “We’ll examine what works and what doesn’t with your existing program.” It was this child-centric focus and educationally-driven design that Herrington most appreciated. “I was blown away by the [DiNisco] presentation,” Herrington said. 

JCJ was the designer for the previous Wildwood project which failed to advance in 2017, and two architects from that project were also proposed this time — Jim LaPosta and Douglas Roberts. LaPosta spoke of the importance of transparency, diversity, and inclusivity, and noted that authentic new voices would be brought to bear via their collaboration with Moody Nolan, a national firm led by Curtis Moody. MSBA representative Barbara Hansberry was particularly impressed with Julie Janiski of Buro Happold, an engineering firm that consults with JCJ. “Julie was really outstanding in her ability to break down complex information about systems and share it in a way that is accessible to everybody,” Hansberry said.

LPA|A’s presentation, which was described as “unique, creative, and innovative,” emphasized the firm’s connections to central and western Massachusetts, strong communication skills, and customer satisfaction, with 100% success rate from feasibility study to fully-funded and occupied MSBA projects. 

The Amherst Elementary School Building Committee next meets on November 18 at 8:00 a.m.. In addition to reporting on the designer selection, the committee will discuss the launch of a project website and formation of an informal working group to help with public outreach.

Maria Kopicki contributed to this article.

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7 thoughts on “DiNisco Selected As Designer For Elementary School Project

  1. Thanks for the update Toni! In choosing between Fort River and Wildwood, it seems essential to analyze the transportation access for families without cars to either site from the school’s future district. Is this part of the analysis?

  2. A connected issue is what will happen to the site of the school NOT being rebuilt? I have heard rumors that there have already been discussions about the Wildwood site being sold to developers. Whether that is an option for Wildwood or Fort River, it should be discussed, with public input in the thinking process. If it were to be residential, would it be houses, or apartments? Could it be prudent to land-bank it, for future public use? It will not be easy to find a piece of land like that, if we just sold it off. How will it affect the neighborhood, traffic, and so on. These are the true costs of the decision. It should not be yet another decision made without proper and fair process.

  3. Ironically, as recently as 2005, the School Committee and Superintendent were seeking large parcels – in fact, active farmland! – to “land-bank” for new schools. Since then we’ve vacated Marks Meadow, and are now thinking of this further consolidation.

    As pointed out by Eve, it’s important to consider how students and their parents/guardians will access the school. Once it was important to have them within walking distance from home, but now it seems that school busses and “chauffeurs” are de rigueur!

    Burlington, Vermont, expects (or at least, in recent decades, expected) all public school students to use public transit busses (there were few if any school busses per se); arguably the Fort River site is better served by public transit at present, but the Wildwood site might be more “walkable” for a larger fraction of the schools population.

  4. Eve, Rob, please tune in over the next three months to offer your input on transportation access. I assume it will be one of the criteria used in evaluating which site to select but your input will help ensure that is the case.

    Ira, it is yet to be discussed what uses the vacated school site could be put to, but Cathy Schoen has mentioned the possibility of co-locating a senior center and early childhood center there. Other complementary uses that would likely also fit in the 82,000 square foot building are a BIPOC teen center, multicultural center, and maybe Amherst Recreation could move out of the middle school and into the vacated elementary school too. ESL instruction might also be feasible there. Point being that there are many needs in town that could occupy the space. With the renovations made last year for Covid, there are twelve 2000sf rooms with daylight and good ventilation and acoustic separation, as well as three large kindergarten classrooms, a fully-equipped kitchen, a gym, and offices. Both sites also boast expansive playing fields and grounds. Really the possibilities for creatively reusing the vacated site for town purposes are endless. Selling it for development would be a mistake in my opinion. It could be that in the future it will be needed for a school so it is better to keep it as a town-owned property. I agree that the decision on preferred site for the consolidated school, and on reuse of the vacated site need to be very transparent and involve significant outreach to the public. Site selection will happen fast (possibly by the end of February) so now is a good time to get plugged in.

  5. Thanks for the update, Toni!

    The Amherst Town Council unanimously adopted a non-binding Pollinator Resolution a couple of years ago committing to promoting habitat for pollinators and minimizing the use of pesticides on town-owned land. The Amherst Area Friends of Pollinators is currently developing proposals for pollinator habitat at all Amherst school locations. How and when would you recommend that we offer our input to ensure that this is considered in creation of the landscaping design at the site of the new elementary school (whether Fort River or Wildwood)?

  6. Great idea, John! A project website is supposed to be launched today (11/22) or tomorrow and presumably it will have a way to communicate with the building committee, or you could email the chair at schoenc@amherstma.gov and ask that she forward to the full committee and design team.

    But perhaps the best way to get the message to all of the committee and designers and for other viewers to hear you is to make a public comment at one or both of their next meetings:

    8:00am on Dec 2: Elementary School Building Committee, with DiNisco in attendance. Public comment period is at the end of the meeting which could be 9am-ish or closer to 10am.

    6:30pm on Dec 14: Joint meeting between the Elementary School Building Committee and the Amherst School Committee, with DiNisco in attendance. I’m not sure how they will do public comment at this meeting. The School Committee typically require it to be emailed by 3:00pm on the day of the meeting to schoolcommittee@arps.org and put PUBLIC COMMENT in the subject line.

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