Designer Focuses On Educational Program For New Elementary School Project



A town-wide vote to fund a new elementary school has been pushed back to March 2023, five months later than previously projected. At a meeting of the Elementary School Building Committee on December 2, Donna DiNisco of architecture firm DiNisco Design said they need more time for community outreach and design work than a November 2022 town vote would allow. A project timeline presented by DiNisco to the committee shows a completed school in September 2026, a schedule which DiNisco said included “wiggle room” in case of minor delays.

Now that the design team is on board, the next milestone for the project is to draft the educational program, scheduled to be submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) in February. DiNisco emphasized the importance of the educational program as it drives the building design.

“This is the foundation of your project,” DiNisco said. “It is critically important that we identify all of your programs and how they function throughout the district, not just in Fort River and Wildwood. The MSBA will refer back to your educational program when they look at the building plans, the floor plans, the layouts, and the size of the spaces.”

The plan to consolidate Fort River and Wildwood into one building for 575 students requires moving sixth grade from all three elementary schools to the middle school building, and increasing the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade population at Crocker Farm to about 375 students. This school year, there are 303 elementary (K-6) students at Crocker Farm, plus 55 students in the preschool that occupies six of the 25 classrooms. While the focus has been on Fort River and Wildwood, Crocker Farm will be impacted by the consolidation, and the educational program will also define what programming will need to be accommodated at Crocker Farm.

In addition to the educational programming needs, DiNisco noted that there are parts of the program that address what spaces in the school building are important to the larger community. “We feel that it’s important for the community to embrace it,” she said.

The building committee will join the Amherst School Committee at their meeting on December 14 to introduce the design team and discuss the educational program. This past summer, Superintendent Michael Morris met with school committee member Ben Herrington, project manager Margaret Wood, and building committee chair Cathy Schoen and discussed revisiting the educational program from the previous Wildwood building project and updating it where applicable. In reference to this, DiNisco said they would be meeting with Morris on December 6 to see how much work has already been done. Many changes have occurred since the previous program was written, including the vote to move sixth grade, the launch of the dual language program, changes in technology use, the adoption of the Net Zero Energy Buildings bylaw, and impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The school building committee will discuss creating subcommittees or working groups to support the committee’s work when they meet on January 5. Some topics suggested for subcommittees were the educational program, traffic, sustainability, and community outreach. Town Manager Paul Bockelman reminded the committee that all subcommittees would be subject to the Open Meeting Law and would be required to post notice of meetings and keep minutes. 

Another issue raised by DiNisco, which she said was a big concern in another consolidation project, is the disposition of the school building that isn’t going to be used. “They felt that the conversation occurred way too late in the process and that it should be thought through as we go,” DiNisco said. Since the project will consolidate Fort River and Wildwood schools into one building on one of the two sites, the site that is not selected will be available to the town for other uses. On the site that is selected, it is anticipated that some or all of the existing school building will be torn down once the new school is complete.

A plan for community outreach via both large and small forums to reach parents, families, school staff, and community members is to be presented by DiNisco at the January 5 meeting. A website that will provide information and updates about the project launched on December 10 at

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