Senior, Childhood, And Teen Centers Are Most Suggested Uses For Elementary School Building

Results of Speak Up! What Should Amherst Do With A Surplus Elementary School? Survey

Survey participants were asked to check off suggestions for how to repurpose the school that is expected to be freed up after completion of Amherst’s Elementary School Replacement project. Respondents were presented with 10 possible uses to choose from, or could specify “Other” and elaborate.

The survey also invited comments explaining the submitter’s answers.

38 readers completed the survey and 26 added comments.  The comments demonstrate that many have put some serious thought into the school repurposing question.

Results are summarized in the chart below.  A complete list of comments follows.

Suggestions for “Other” Uses

1.

These are basically fine buildings, despite the endless hue and cry to the contrary. In need of renovation? Sure. But are absolutely capable of being repurposed thereafter to serve all kinds of town needs/desires/etc. So, let’s preserve one or both of them and put them to good use, if not as schools, then for other purposes.

Among the many things that strike me as highly useful are the gymnasiums. These are GREAT spaces for all kinds of indoor activities. This is especially true at whichever site is chosen for a new/renovated school building. (Though let’s be honest here: that decision was made long-since. Those who will choose the school plan have never been interested in renovation as an option – and the same is true for the Jones project.) Even if the rest of the school building is knocked down and carted away to a landfill, let’s preserve the gymnasium. Currently, when it’s “”too cold”” or “”too hot”” or rainy or whatever, recess devolves into a video game time. This is a huge disservice to our kids and our teachers/staff. Kids need to run around and play in the REAL world. Keep the indoor rec spaces so kids actually can move and play together – not spend yet more time staring at a screen. In both cases, the gyms are off to the far side of the building site and could be retained, regardless of what happens at the rest of the site. Perhaps a few of the rooms immediately adjacent should be preserved/reno’ed as well, converted into changing rooms/coat rooms/equipment storage, etc. Great spaces also for summer camps to continue physical activities when the temps soar into the high 90s. At a cost of several million each to replace, let’s not waste these excellent resources! Who cares if they’re a little outdated. Put a new roof on, maybe a new high-efficiency heating/cooling system and we have a great town resource for another generation (or three).

Beyond that, lets repurpose some of the space to serve as a “Special Collections” archive for the Jones. And a cool teen center. And cozy, well-structured space for an English Language Learning Center. Senior Center. Amherst Rec office.  Early ed center.  Community performance space. Art gallery.  We don’t need every possible town – or even library – function served on-site at the Jones. Reduce the scope of the Jones project to focus on core, daily-use library activities; the Jones doesn’t need to be all things to all people. Some/many functions can be moved to other, already available town spaces. Like a renovated Fort River or Wildwood school. And it seems like there could be great synergies created by having many of these things collected under a single roof. The only specific option suggested in the survey that I’d push back against would be housing. The school sites are prime locations for community activities to be focused. Yes, we need more, affordable family housing, but we can and should make that happen at other places around town, not at these sites.

Whatever happens, under NO circumstance should the land/buildings be sold for private development. Absolutely not. Never, never, never.


2.

The Town’s current Senior Center space is an embarrassment and combining a new and sufficient Senior Center with an Early Childhood Center seems like a match made in heaven.

But given the hardly unexpected news about the rising costs of the Library Trustees’ plans for a new library, I want to reiterate the idea that the library’s general circulating collection be moved to the new civic center we are discussing.  Ease of parking and access without streets to cross or hills to climb would make this an ideal solution to the problems the library faces.  The Jones building, suitably renovated could become the expanded home of Special Collections, computers, and programming which could extend far beyond that envisioned in the Trustees’ proposal.  And the Woodbury Room could be re-imagined as a space for performances and presentations, while the Burnett Gallery could also be re-imagined to offer local artists a beautiful and flexible space for their work.   This kind of Jones, combined with the adjacent Strong House, also suitably strengthened while preserving its character, would provide both scholars, students and general visitors a unique and beautiful resource for studying local history and culture.  And the Jones would truly fit into its surroundings without trying to dominate them.


3.

There are many programs in need of a location and very little Town-owned property to house them. The vacated school would provide ample free parking and 82,000 square feet of space that has recently been renovated to improve daylighting and ventilation. Losing this invaluable asset would be extraordinarily short-sighted.

Other important future uses of the vacated building would be for possible use as swing space (during other construction projects) and the ability to use it for additional classroom/educational space in the event of the next pandemic when social distancing is recommended.


4.

Just an idea, it could be made a joint headquarters for Fire, DPW and CRESS. That may cost less than standalone replacement buildings for Fire and DPW while also providing CRESS with a building that is equal to that of our other first responders. A building like this could not only be less costly, but allow DPW, CRESS and Fire to respond together when needed.


5.

Amherst is in desperate need of good quality recreational sports fields as anyone who has survived a soccer season at Plumbrook knows. The Fort River fields are used extensively by town adult and child recreational teams and school practices, for ultimate frisbee, soccer, baseball, and others, who compete with each other for space. Fort River would make a great recreational area, with Amherst Rec offices, a teen center, etc.  Wildwood does not have the same field space. In addition, the traffic coming out of Fort River at school opening and closing is already a safety and traffic congestion concern. With a doubled school population, this would get significantly worse.


6.

Swing space for things ranging from winter farmers’ markets to tinkers’ workshops to a tool lending library….


7.

Expand Fort River School by adding a sun-gathering addition to the east, modeled on an “orangerie” or open-truss warehouse, with high ceilings and lofts, a Great Wall of glass facing south, with plenty of overhang on the south side to shield from summer heat and provide cover a long & wide outdoor space from rain or snow, and with plenty of ventilation with multiple windows which open, and multiple doors which connect the indoors with the outdoors – perhaps the old and new can even be an enclosed “quad” like the great colleges in Cambridge or Oxford….

Repurpose Wildwood for other public functions: early education has been mentioned, but the topography lends itself to a wonderful outdoor venue for music and theatre, for example – or a grand scale version of the Kinsey Garden – or ….  Let our imaginations run a bit wild about Wildwood, and eventually any architectural modifications there – to the building and to the landscape – will follow the functions for which we choose to repurpose the beautiful Wildwood site!


General Comments


8.

Senior low-cost living


9.

Multi use, multi-generational community center w gym, arts, playground, etc.


10.

A Teen Center should be for all teens and located at the ARMS…lessening the divisions between BIPOC and others as well as the access/transportation to it, while offering recreational facilities (e.g., gym, pool, outdoor fields).

We don’t need to support a performance space, nor an arts and cultural center, among other non-essential services, with tax dollars.  Let those be the purview of private or non-profit organizations/businesses.  We need good roads and sidewalks, safe vehicles for our emergency service crews, sound infrastructure of town owned structures and good basic services for all at an affordable tax rate.  Stop with the fancy trimmings on a town while its foundation falls apart. And stop duplicating efforts (e.g., see what the new library has planned for services that extend well beyond that of a library…at least, for its projected size and cost.)


11.

The combination of Senior Center with programs for young children offers many wonderful opportunities for intergenerational contacts and mutuality.  Both sites offer plenty of space, easy access and parking, but both sites would require substantial work to make them appropriate for intergenerational use.  A teen center is vitally needed but is perhaps not as good a fit with these other programs unless the building can be suitably modified to make it work.


12.

With so many organizations seeking public space (and not necessarily limited to those listed), I hope the ideas expressed in articles here and elsewhere are followed up by a broad and public exploration/discussion of the unused school as multi-purpose community center serving the diversity of well-documented town needs.  The May 5th forum is but a start.


13.

I think it would be a mistake to sell the property. There is a shortage of Town-owned property that is suitable for civic uses and a vacated school provides a wonderful opportunity to provide space for many community needs. When I look at the potential uses and think of where each site is located, I feel that Wildwood would be a better location due to its proximity to the middle and high schools and the Community Action Head Start program. In addition, it is slightly closer to downtown than Fort River, and Fort River seems to be a superior site for a large elementary school.


14.

BIPOC Cultural Center; DEI Department; CRESS Department


15.

The fact that there would be ample free parking makes the surplus school an ideal location for almost any civic use.


16.

The Wildwood and Fort River schools are large buildings with several large spaces: the gym, cafeteria, and library. They could house several programs. There is ample parking at both sites. I think it would be nice to have teens, seniors and preschoolers use different spaces in the buildings and possibly have a chance to interact. All three of these groups need space. Also, some smaller classrooms could be set aside for English Language learners, since lack of space for this program was noted by several commenters at the library forums.


17.

There is a dramatic shortage of civic meeting space in this town and our “residual” school building could be used to address that paucity.  The arguments have been made eloquently by others including Michael Greenebaum, Meg Gage, Richard Yourga and Toni Cunningham in the pages of the Indy.  The Community Safety Working Group made a compelling argument for creating a BIPOC teen center in town.   Finding space is a major obstacle.  Arts groups have long complained about the difficulty of scheduling performance space at the high school and middle schools and the much welcome appearance of The Drake will not resolve the need for space by amateur arts groups that abound in our community.  Amherst Media seeks a mere 2000 sq. ft. to house it’s operations for less than two years while awaiting completion of their new headquarters.  Conversion of the “residual” school won’t happen in time to help them, but their dilemma underscores the shortage of community space in town and points to the value of having some swing space available.   The Bangs is bursting at the seams as a growing number of groups place demands on that space.   We will. have no trouble filling the space of either the old Wildwood or Fort River building with an abundance of civic activities and services. and even town offices that will only create a richer and more vibrant life for Amherst residents.  Let’s use that old school building to create the community center that we need.


18.

How long do our public employees have to work in an 1800 facility that is intolerable?  The lack of addressing their needs before all of the above says a lot about the priorities of the Town and how much we value both the DPW and AFD.  Shame on us.  The need for these facilities has been discussed for years.  Unfortunately, these employees do not have loud advocacy groups pushing for them.  Sad.


19.

There are so many civic functions that need more space.  I found Meg Gage’s piece in the Gazette quite compelling.   The decision of which space to use for the new school should be made while also considering the best location for the civic functions of the unused school site.


20.

Library off-site storage, town business offices (for instance for LSSE), and other functions. Under no circumstances should the land or building be sold or rented for long-term use, and the building should not be demolished when the town can use it.

Why not Amherst Media?


21.

It would be a big mistake to sell such an asset. We have so many needs for space it wouldn’t make sense to do so.


22.

It would be unwise to sell the land and give up town property for merely a short-term boost to the town’s income. The spacious future empty school building could be adapted for many purposes as listed in the survey.  I would add that non-profits could rent part of the space, too.


23.

A space for small local businesses, similar to Thorne’s in Northampton, with shops, restaurants, groceries, but also repair services, a guided do-it-yourself crafts center, and a training or re-training center. the re-use should make great use of the already existing outdoor spaces including athletic facilities like playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts…and expend those to include older people as well as other populations.


24.

The range of programs that could call there home would also create opportunities for mixing generations, economic classes, and more.

25.

I think the town desperately needs a new senior center.  The Bangs Center has inadequate parking, plus the rooms are too small and poorly ventilated.  One, where movement classes are held, has floor to ceiling poles!

As much as the department of public works needs a new building, I don’t believe it would work to house them with a senior center.

26.

The building should be repurposed for community needs like a youth center and senior center then the land surrounding them used for affordable housing for people who live in, work, and retire in Amherst would be a great combo. Small net zero cottages like the VerMod or Unity Cottages that buyers and the town contribute to would be ideal. They can use state tax breaks like the ZEH pilots underway. Wildwood’s proximity to town and the other schools makes it ideal for this.

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4 thoughts on “Senior, Childhood, And Teen Centers Are Most Suggested Uses For Elementary School Building

  1. Any time we can poll the community on its thoughts about our resources in common it’s a good move. Thank you for publishing. Asa minor addition to the charter change community involvement staff was allowed. This might be part of their duties. We need functioning officers in these slots.

    Chad Fuller

  2. I really appreciate all of the great ideas shared via this edition of Speak Up. I read some great suggestions here that I had not heard before.

    I worry that if the new school is sited at Wildwood, all of these great ideas will come to naught as I expect the Town’s leaders will move to sell or lease the Fort River property for development of some kind, and the building will be demolished.

    If Fort River is selected for the new school, I suspect Wildwood is more likely to be retained and repurposed for Town use, and as we can see from the ideas above, there is no shortage of potential uses! One critical one will be “Swing Space” for temporarily housing a population while another town or school building is rebuilt or renovated.

  3. I was originally neutral about sites, but I have been persuaded that Fort River School would be the preferable site for the new school, while Wildwood can become a new civic space for some of the uses suggested by respondents to Jeff Lee’s useful poll. A senior center could easily be located there and leave ample space for other uses. And let’s not forget a performance space for music recitals, drama, various kinds of lectures and presentations, and family programs.

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