Public Comment: Yes! The Town Should Be Investing In The Vacated School Building
The following public comment was submitted in writing to the Amherst Town Council on May 12, 2022
At the May 3 joint Finance Committee and Town Council meeting, Lynn Griesemer raised the following question, in reference to the future vacated elementary school building:
“Should we or should we not be investing in improvements in these buildings so that they might be usable in the future?”
I would like to urge all councilors and town staff to appreciate the incredible asset that the vacated school and site will be to the town once the new school is completed. And yes, start planning now for investing in improvements.
On numerous occasions lately, the Town Manager and others have said that town space is at a premium, that there are many programs that do not have sufficient space now, and that the Bangs Center is bursting at the seams. The idea that 2,000 square feet of town-owned space could not be identified for a temporary site for Amherst Media speaks volumes on the level of need.
The 82,000 square foot elementary school building will be a boon to the town, offering so much space as to enable the co-location of numerous Town programs that residents value, as well as valuable swing space when needed in the future, and indeed the ability to operate as a school again in the future should enrollments increase significantly.
Of course the building will need ongoing maintenance, as well as forward planning for larger repairs, as is the case with all town assets. Once the site for the new school is selected next month, I would argue that planning for improvements to the remaining school could begin immediately. Many improvements could likely be done over time, potentially by town staff, and would be beneficial to the building occupants for the next four years before the new school is ready. For example, adding insulation to the inside of the walls, which would likely have the added benefit of reducing heating costs in the interim. Other larger projects like replacing the HVAC system to move off fossil fuels and replacing the roof will need to be plugged into the longer term capital plan. This is no different to the needs for every other municipal building and should absolutely not be a reason to dispose of the building or property.
As for which site to select for the combined elementary school and which site to retain for other town uses, I contend there is a very strong case for Fort River to be the site of the new school and Wildwood to be converted for other community uses (Senior Center, Youth Center, etc). I would be happy to elaborate on the many reasons, if requested.
Toni Cunningham is a frequent writer for the Indy, primarily on schools and town finance.