Opinion: Elementary School Building Project Moves Forward

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.

by Allison McDonald and Cathy Schoen

Since Amherst was accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) funding program two years ago, the town and the School Building Committee have been engaged in formational meetings to get the project underway. Now, with the recent selection of DiNisco Design as project architects, we are delighted to be entering the next exciting phase of the elementary school building project. On Tuesday night (12/14) the teams from DiNisco Design and Anser Advisory, our owner’s project manager (OPM), met in a joint meeting with the school committee and building committee to present key milestones and target dates for the next phases of the project. If all goes smoothly, Amherst students will enter the new elementary school by Fall 2026.

This next phase is when we’ll create the plans for what the school building will look like and where it will be located. We’ll build from the community listening sessions three years ago and engage teachers, staff, families, and community members as we develop priorities that will inform the design of our elementary school building. Early in the new year, the design team will meet with teachers, parents and caregivers, and residents, and will study a variety of site selection considerations, such as traffic and geography, to inform the town’s decision on location. They will also work with the school community to develop the education plan and input on design features for the school.

With the 6th grade moving to the middle school in the Fall of 2023, the new school will be designed for kindergarten through grade 5, replacing both Fort River and Wildwood and including the innovative Caminantes dual-language program. The school building committee has outlined some other initial design goals, including spaces for project based learning, small group breakout areas, plenty of daylight in classrooms and throughout the building, and outdoor spaces both for education and play; we look forward to refining these goals through this next phase of the project.

Importantly, the school will be a model for sustainability, built to be net-zero and eliminate reliance on fossil fuels. The DiNisco team was selected in part because of their experience in designing green elementary school buildings. With our school building project, we have the opportunity to innovate and make substantial impact on the town’s progess toward our sustainability goals.

The MSBA requires development and consideration of multiple alternatives in this next phase of the building project; these alternatives include a K-6 building to replace only Fort River in addition to a K-5 building to replace both Fort River and Wildwood, as well as renovation, renovation/addition, and new construction. This consideration will be part of the work that will happen in the early half of next year.

The school building committee launched a website (https://www.amherst-school-project.com/) with comprehensive information about the project. Progress updates as well as information about when and how community members can engage throughout the project will be shared on that website. We plan to update the community on our progress regularly through columns like this. We anticipate a variety of opportunities for public engagement throughout this process, and we will seek to engage families, teachers and the broader community.

The new year will bring with it exciting and intensive effort in this next phase of the school building project. We look forward to uniting to bring a new elementary school to our children that is a source of joy and pride, and is a solid investment in all of our futures.

Allison McDonald,  is chair of the Amherst School Committee (mcdonalda@arps.org)

Cathy Schoen, is Chair of Amherst’s Elementary School Building Committee and a Town Councilor representing District 1 (schoenc@amherstma.gov)

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