Letter: We Need a Community Forum on the Future of Wildwood


One of the twelve 2000 Sq. Ft. classrooms at Wildwood School which has a total of 82,000 sq. ft. Photo: Toni Cunningham

Now that construction has started to build the new school at the Fort River site, we need to consider the highest and best use of Wildwood School building.

Not surprisingly, this matter is already becoming divisive, with some of us who’d like it repurposed as an improved Senior Center, plus Teen Empowerment Center, and a home to several other programs, from English Language Learners to the Recreation Department, to multi-purpose meeting spaces and black box theater, and others who argue that the property must be used for affordable housing. 

My vote is to discuss it, bringing people together in a well facilitated public process. Many studies have shown that if there is “fair process” (where everyone has their say in a trusting and collaborative manner) everyone accepts the results better, having been heard and ideas measured more accurately.

I also am not assured that Amherst has not done its part, more than many Western Mass towns, in producing affordable housing. I’d like that clarified and explored, rather than depend on conventional wisdom that all towns have not done nearly enough. And I’d like it clearly explained if Amherst’s housing prices are out of whack in some way other than the infinite demand for student housing, that is stressing our neighborhoods.

It would be in a big tent conversation where it could be creatively discussed how Wildwood might be repurposed without cutting in line, in front of the Public Works and the Fire Station projects. 

In conclusion, I’d vote yes for the repurposing of Wildwood as community space. But I vote twice for the uncommon practice of bringing all sides together in Amherst to discuss it with respect and neighborliness.

Ira Bryck

Ira Bryck has lived in Amherst since 1993, ran the Family Business Center for 25 years, hosted the “Western Mass. Business Show” on WHMP for seven years, now coaches business leaders, and is a big fan of Amherst’s downtown.

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1 thought on “Letter: We Need a Community Forum on the Future of Wildwood

  1. Maintenance of the Wildwood building was routinely in the capital improvement plan over the years but very little of the funding was spent in the past decade. Similar to the Jones Library, all but emergency maintenance has been intentionally deferred until such time as a decision was made about where to locate the new school. That made some sense, but now that we know the new school will be at Fort River, it is time to start maintaining the Wildwood building again. This is not “cutting in line, in front of the Public Works and the Fire Station projects,” it is maintaining a valuable town asset. Is funding repairs to the police station considered cutting in line? What about repairs to Town Hall? Or buying new public works vehicles or a fire truck? This “cutting-in-line” narrative is a strategy of those wanting to sell off Wildwood. Don’t fall for it.

    Wildwood is functional as a school right now (my children have attended it for the past 10 years and one will be there for another year) and can just as easily accommodate other functions once it is no longer needed as an elementary school, expected to be in August 2026. It does NOT need tens of millions in investment just to hold different community programming there. There is a lot of information on the existing conditions from the various studies that have been done so it shouldn’t be that hard to prioritize the most critical repairs. I expect getting rid of the oil-fired boilers to convert to electric should be one of the first things. Eventually, the roof will need to be replaced and then we would have ~80,000 square feet of flat roof space to host a large solar array – more than enough to power it and other town buildings! Planning building repairs does not have to wait until the fall 2026. There is already money allocated from prior years that remains unspent (at my last count, more than $1.7 million). Use that to get a start on the work without costing the town anything extra.

    As for the community forum that Ira is advocating for. In an ideal world, that would be a good start, but my trust in our Town’s leaders and their willingness to be open and honest has been eroded. I cannot envision a situation where they would hold such an event.
    Councilors or other Town leaders: I am happy to be proven wrong on this. Are you open to putting all options on the table for Wildwood and truly listening to public input and acting on it?

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