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.