Fixing 2 Amherst schools will now cost more

The soonest both elementary schools will be repaired is 2026.

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

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – After 2 town meeting rejections and a failed referendum Tuesday, the proposal to build a new school combining Fort River and Wildwood elementary schools is dead. Now, the district’s focus is to renovate these schools; the more expensive option they wanted to avoid.

There are several issues that need to be addressed at both schools. Neither school complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Doors, their handles, and bathrooms aren’t handicap accessible. Neither school has walls to separate classrooms.

Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools Superintendent Michael Morris told 22News, “For our hearing impaired students, our practice is to send them to Crocker Farm, which is the only elementary school in the district that has walls.”

Wildwood needs a new boiler, while Fort River needs a new roof for $1 million. Superintendent Morris said the goal is to fix both of those problems by 2019.

The interior renovations at both schools would cost at least $72 million, compared to the town’s $34 million share of building a new school. Morris told 22News that cost is expected to go up, as construction expenses increase an average of 3% each year.

On top of that, the state needs to approve this project. If it’s approved, the soonest construction could start would be in 2022, but each school needs to be fixed one at a time. In the end, both schools would be done by 2026.

While repairs are underway, students would be learning in mobile classrooms. No elementary student currently in the district will ever see these repairs.

Morris said the district plans to reapply for funding again for 2019. For now, he said, “I think the town’s really going to have to wrestle with what it can afford, as well as what we need from an operational standpoint over the next couple of years.”

A majority of Tuesday’s referendum voters did vote to approve the new school project, but that majority wasn’t large enough. For the proposal to have passed, 18% of registered voters needed to approve it, and that number of “yes” votes needed to reach a two-thirds majority.

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