Granby’s Plan To Repurpose Old Elementary School Suggests Possibilities for Amherst

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Wildwood School. Photo: Art Keene

by Art and Maura Keene

An email sent on February 5 by Town Council President Lynn Griesemer to an Amherst resident and to the Town Council was forwarded to us, and we read her claim that repairing and renovating the Wildwood School buidling for repurposing would cost an estimated $40 million. We understand that number was shared last year, but it is important to note that it was part of an effort to push for new construction and so is not unbiased.

A look at neighboring towns will paint a very different picture. For example, Granby is planning to repurpose one of their old elementary school buildings (at 14 West Street), which is a little more than half the footprint of Wildwood at 44,000 sf. (See Daily Hampshire Gazette coverage here and here). For an estimated $5.6 million, they believe they can bring the building up to code, paying for an HVAC system, a fire suppression system, asbestos removal, PCB removal, new water systems, new windows and doors, carpeting, painting and the oil tank removal. It is a single story red brick building not unlike Wildwood. Initial plans call for the former first grade and kindergarten class wing to become municipal/Town Hall offices while the kitchen and cafeteria will become the Senior Center.

Funding for the project will come from ARPA funds and unspent money from the town’s general and capital project funds. An earlier committee in 2018 had recommended the building be demolished. The current building committee chair is quoted as saying, “At this point, the most cost-effective, financially-responsible thing to do is to reuse and renovate the building rather than build new.”

We wonder if Griesemer’s number comes from a very rough DiNisco estimate that was offered early on in the school building project for a code upgrade of Fort River while that building was occupied and being used as a school, and that the formulation was designed specifically to meet the needs of an MSBA project, using the Construction Manager at Risk procurement method (which makes it more expensive). It is not what we would be doing to Wildwood in any way, if we were to repurpose that building for say, a senior center or a teen center, and so it does not make for a good comparison.

We contend that we need independent reviews of Wildwood, and any “surplus property” for that matter, led by people who do not have a predetermined outcome in mind. A space needs analysis also is critical to have in advance of any property disposition discussions.

Art and Maura Keene


Art Keene is a resident of District 3, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at UMass, and the Managing Editor of the Amherst Indy. His four children are graduates of Amherst Regional High School. He was head coach of the ARHS girls cross country team for 17 years.

Maura Keene is a retired obstetrician-gynecologist at BayState Health Systems. Her four children are graduates of the Amherst schools. She has lived in Amherst since 1982. She is a frequent contributor to the Amherst Indy.

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2 thoughts on “Granby’s Plan To Repurpose Old Elementary School Suggests Possibilities for Amherst

  1. Time and again we see examples of neighboring towns achieving new and renovated building projects for a fraction of what Amherst claims it will cost. Why is that? In Amehrst, we seem to have a dearth of common sense and a resistance to living within our means.

    The Wildwood building is most definitely not trash. My children have been at school there for the past 10 years and it will remain in use as a school for the next two years. Maintenance has been deferred for years, just like in most of our town buildings, and it needs to be addressed. That does not mean you knock it down and hand the land over to a private developer. It is prime real estate with 82,000 square feet of ground floor space with a gym, kitchen, and offices that can be repurposed for any number of town uses, not to mention the basketball courts and playing fields.

    I would argue that it should not wait until the fall of 2026 to start to think about what the building needs. Start now with a plan to get it off oil and install electric Air Source Heat Pumps. There is federal money available to help fund the energy transition. I would like to see the building insulated to reduce energy costs, and review what other systems need upgrades. There has already been existing condition surveys of the building. We are not starting from scratch.

    Griesemer’s $40 million price tag is a red herring. Let’s look instead at what other towns, without Amherst’s preciousness and pre-determined preferences, are doing with their buildings. In addition to the Granby school example, Chicopee got a bid for $10.7 million to renovate their old library that had been left vacant for 20 years. According to an article in MassLive, the work “will address every need, such as adding an elevator that will reach all three floors of the building, upgrading all the mechanical systems, installing a new fire suppression system and replacing the roof.”
    https://www.masslive.com/news/2024/02/closed-for-20-years-chicopee-library-to-get-new-life-as-multi-use-community-space.html

    Wildwood can and should be kept for community use, and most critical repairs made. If it can be used as a school in June 2026, I see no reason why it can’t be used for other community purposes in July or September 2026. Let’s get the critical repairs on the schedule now. There’s no need to wait until it is formally handed over to the Town in fall 2026.

  2. Incidentally, re Griesemer’s claim that “Wildwood School does not belong to the Town of Amherst until the Amherst Schools decide to give it to the Town. The earliest this could possibly happen is 2026.” On page 134 of the FY25 Initial Amherst Schools budget, it says, “The buildings and grounds of the Amherst Schools are owned by the Town of Amherst. It is therefore the responsibility of the town to maintain the assets used by one of its departments.”
    I would argue that no, the Town Council does not have to wait “until the schools decide to give it to the Town” before they plan for building repairs and future potential uses. Wildwood will not be used as a school once the new Fort River building is ready for occupancy (projected to be in September 2026). Wildwood is owned by the Town of Amherst now and it will be owned by the Town of Amherst then, and subsequently available for other town uses.
    Link to initial FY25 Amherst budget: https://go.boarddocs.com/ma/arps/Board.nsf/files/CZJUVZ740071/$file/FY25%20Amherst%20Initial%20Budget_1.16.24_v2.pdf

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