WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The Massachusetts School Building Authority has rejected Westfield High School’s statement of interest for a new science wing for the coming year.
“The primary factor we look at in evaluating statement of interests is need combined with the potential for successful collaboration with the MSBA,”said Dan Collins, press secretary for the MSBA. “Within that framework, our funding is limited and our grant is capped at $500 million per year and that has to be spread out equitably throughout the state.”
Collins said that the statement of interest submittal for the core program projects period closed out in late April 2014 and these projects were evaluated until the late fall/early winter of 2014.
“Every year, we do have to make evaluations about which statement of interests present the highest level of need,” he said.
According to Westfield’s Director of Technology and Business Services Ron Rix, the district was notified by the MSBA in late December and the district intends to resubmit a SOI by the April 15 deadline for 2016.
“The new statement of interest opens up January 9 and Tammy Tefft (City Purchasing Director) and I are working together to bring forth another SOI to bring forward,” said Rix yesterday.
Rix said that the school’s needs were illustrated in a proposal to the MSBA the need to upgrade the school’s science facilities, which are around 40 years old, depending on differing accounts.
The statement of interest laid out the district’s desire to build a new, three-story wing for science courses in the front of the building.
“The first floor would be occupied by the school’s offices and the next two floors would be classrooms – I believe nine or 11 – and renovating existing science rooms,” said Rix, adding that the school’s technology would be upgraded throughout the building, as well.
Other improvements listed in the statement of interest included the building of a supplemental, smaller gymnasium near the school’s pool and improving upon the high school’s technology shops near the school’s band room.
It also seeks to improve lab facilities at Westfield Vocational-Technical High School, which are even older than those at WHS.
“I think we’re looking in the $36 million range and we’re looking at a two-year-old cost estimate,” said Rix.
Rix said that the district’s number one priority at this time is the construction of a new elementary school on Cross Street.
“We’re actively engaged in that project,” said Rix. “You can only have one number one priority at a time. We need to get that done and move on to our second priority, which would be the high school (science wing).”
Rix said that the City Council and School Committees will be seeing the new statement of interest in late January or early February.
Reports that Westfield High School’s accreditation was in the balance and that it hinges on the construction of a new science wing have been exaggerated and, even though the school’s facilities are in dire need of being upgraded, Westfield Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Scallion said she isn’t going to use scare tactics regarding the school’s accreditation.
“We know how important these labs are and they absolutely need to be updated,” said Scallion yesterday. “The advances in science and technology have been so profound over the last 10 years, nevermind the 20, 30 or 40 years since those labs have been built, so we’re clearly in the dark ages and we need to move forward for our kids.”
“Even though the MSBA won’t say it, the fact that we got a project that has gone uncompleted is a problem,” said Westfield Mayor and School Committee Chair Daniel M. Knapik of the planned Cross Street School.
Knapik stated that the New England Association of School Accreditation will not strip WHS’s accreditation if the district continues to seek MSBA funding.
“As long as we continue to apply and the mayor – whoever that may be – continues to support it, then we’ll be fine,” said Knapik. “But the day is going to come, sooner rather than later, on this project and we need to be ready to pull the trigger. Saying no to it is not an option.”
WHS Principal Jonathan Carter, an active proponent of the school’s science wing project, declined comment yesterday on the MSBA’s decision.
Media Credit: The Westfield News