Groundbreaking at New Elementary School Ushers in Town’s First Net-zero Building


Educators, parents, and students join Interim School Superintendent Doug Slaughter (R) and Amherst School Committee Chair Sarah Marshall (5th from R) in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new elementary school at Fort River. Photo: Art Keene

About one hundred people attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the new elementary school at Fort River on Monday, March 26. The event was emceed by Town Manager Paul Bockelman who hailed the project as “good for education, good for the environment, and good for operating costs”. Elementary School Building Committee Chair, Town Councilor Cathy Schoen (District 1), agreed, pointing out the “three ambitious goals of the project” to benefit “our children, the climate, and the community.” She highlighted the net-zero features of the building including ground source heat pumps, photovoltaics, and energy efficient design. She also noted the resulting enhancements to community resources such as the improvements to the athletic fields and common spaces in the building like the cafetorium with its stage and the gymnasium that will be available for use outside of school hours.

Local elected representatives also attended the event. Massachusetts State Representative Mindy Domb described the project as a testament to a community coming together to create something “better than what we could have originally envisioned”. Massachusetts State Senator Jo Comerford praised the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) program that helped to make the project possible and advocated for the same support in other areas of western Massachusetts. U.S. Representative Jim McGovern was represented by his District Representative, Kobe Gardner-Levinem who did not speak.

The MSBA was represented by Deputy Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director Mary Pichetti, Chief Executive Officer Jim MacDonald, and Director of External Affairs Maria Puopolo. Pichetti commended the town for remaining “committed to your net zero goals” as she spoke of the $49.3 million maximum facilities grant awarded to this project.

Several speakers thanked the residents of Amherst for voting to fund the project in the form of a debt exclusion override. Other funding sources for the project that weren’t mentioned at the ceremony include Community Preservation Act funds, an Eversource grant, and Inflation Reduction Act funds that will offset the costs of the athletic fields, the ground source heat pump system, and the photovoltaic system, respectively.

Other speakers included Amherst School Committee Chair Sarah Marshall, Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter, and Amherst Town Council President Lynn Griesemer. Griesemer spoke of being part of a group that revised the Net Zero ByLaw in 2018 after Amherst Town Meeting passed it initially in 2017. Members of the project’s design team, DiNisco Design, and Owner’s Project Manager team, Anser Advisory, were also present but did not speak. 

Construction is expected to be completed in 2026 with 575 students attending the new school starting in the Fall of that year. The remaining elementary students in town will attend Crocker Farm school in south Amherst. 

Architect’s rendering of the new Fort River Elementary School. South drop off. Photo:
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1 thought on “Groundbreaking at New Elementary School Ushers in Town’s First Net-zero Building

  1. Thanks Maria for attending and reporting on the groundbreaking for the new school. I was away last week and missed it.
    It was a long slog to get here but we now get to watch as a wonderful new school is built. Mindy Domb put it well when she said it is a testament to a community coming together to create something better than what we could have originally envisioned. This plan is miles better than the one envisioned in 2015. Keeps grades K through 5 together, eliminates fossil fuels, includes innovative curriculum in the form of the dual language program, retains and improves acres of athletic fields, offers the students a huge amount of outdoor play space and access to nature.
    Kudos to everyone involved.

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