Amherst school merger fails; renovation will now cost twice as much

Renovating Fort River Elementary and Wildwood Elementary will each cost about $34 million

Artistic rendering of the new proposed elementary school that would replace the Wildwood and Fort River Elementary Schools.

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – Amherst Town Meeting members have, for the 2nd time, rejected the merger of two elementary schools in town. The “yes” vote to merge the schools won the 57% majority, but didn’t meet the two-thirds vote needed to pass. The district is now looking at what can be fixed immediately without launching a complete renovation of both schools.

Amherst’s plan to merge Wildwood Elementary School and Fort River Elementary School is off the table for good. Town meeting Monday night rejected a proposal to replace and merge both schools, which don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school’s bathrooms and library aren’t handicap accessible. Amherst public schools Superintendent Michael Morris explained to 22News a school can stay non-ADA compliant so long as there’s no construction going on. If there is construction going on at the school, they have to fix those problems immediately.

Fixing those ADA issues will be expensive, according to Superintendent Morris, who told 22News, “The original estimate was over $34 million for each school. There’s also no place to put the students when the renovation’s happening, because you’re opening up walls, and kids can’t be learning while that’s happening.”

The priority now is construction on other school issues, without starting an entire renovation of both schools to address ADA compliance issues. Fort River needs a $1 million roof repair, while Wildwood needs a new boiler. “If it went” said Morris, “we’d have to close school because we wouldn’t have heat in the winter.”

The district waited 6 years for the state to approve funding half of the $67-million merger. Superintendent Morris said the school will apply for funding again, but it’s unknown how long that will take.

The school committee has a meeting scheduled next Tuesday, where they’ll discuss how soon they want to fix the roof and replace the boiler, and how soon both schools can be completely renovated.

Related Amherst School Merger Coverage: