HAMPDEN, Mass. (WWLP) – It’s looking like a proposed middle school merger will not take place in Wilbraham and Hampden. More than 1,000 people packed the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Hampden on Monday, where residents took turns speaking, and then voted down the middle school merger with Wilbraham.
Residents of Hampden and Wilbraham have been at odds for months over the proposal to consolidate their middle schools. The main factors behind the proposed consolidation had to do with declining enrollment in both middle schools, and saving money in both towns.
The proposal sparked heated debate all year. “We don’t want the schools to merge, we’re afraid of what might happen to this school,” said John Moccio of Hampden.
Under the proposal, Thornton W. Burgess Middle School on Wilbraham Road in Hampden would close, and its students would be bused to Wilbraham Middle School on Stony Hill Road in Wilbraham. The merger required voter approval in both municipalities.
Denise Fiedler, a teacher at Thornton W. Burgess, said, “I approve of the merger. I really think we need to, we are losing student population; and with a lower population, the student teacher ratio needs to be adjusted. So we’re losing students and programs.”
A study that was done for the school district shows a projected loss of 60 to 70 students per year, and closing the Thornton W. Burgess Middle School and having all district middle school students attend the Wilbraham Middle School could save an estimated $1 million over three years.
However, some felt the merger will take away from their town, and hurt their children’s education. “I am against the merger 100%. We are a small community, we need to keep our hometown values and it’s better for our kids to have this type of community where we have our own middle school,” said Courtney Gilrein of Hampden.
The merger almost unanimously passed in Wilbraham, but in Hampden, it failed by a nearly unanimous vote. As it stands right now, the merger cannot move forward.