School Building Authority advances new school projects in Belchertown, South Hadley

Belchertown,  Jabish Brook Middle School.

Belchertown, Jabish Brook Middle School.

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 12-26-2023 11:05 AM

A new Jabish Brook Middle School in Belchertown and a replacement building for Mosier Elementary School in South Hadley are continuing to make progress, with the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s board of directors moving both projects forward last week.

The MSBA board of directors voted to have the Belchertown project go to the schematic design stage, while another vote lifted the South Hadley project into a 270-day eligibility period.

Plans for the new Jabish Brook include replacing the current building, on the same site on North Washington Street, with a new three-story building to serve 475 students in grades 6 to 8, with a completion date in summer 2027.

School Committee Chairwoman Heidi Gutekenst said the MSBA vote allows for a robust schematic design plan that will both meet the needs of students and educators and is cost effective for the community.

If the project comes to fruition, the district would close Cold Spring School and redistribute students in the K-8 schools.

The price tag for the new building is estimated at $117 million to $121 million, with about a 30% reimbursement from the MSBA, cutting the cost to taxpayers by about $31 million. Currently, a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion ballot vote is set for June 17, 2024, with a Town Meeting vote set for a week later. Both approvals are necessary before the MSBA votes to authorize the financing for the project at its June 26, 2024 meeting.

In a statement of interest, numerous deficiencies and structural integrity issues were identified at the current Jabish Brook school, including, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as issues related to the envelope, windows, roof and accessibility. In addition to the physical plant concerns, the district reported that the existing facility does not support the delivery of its educational program.

“The new Jabish Brook Middle School will mean a better learning and teaching location for students and teachers,” MSBA Executive Director and Deputy CEO Mary Pichetti said in a statement.

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State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, who chairs the MSBA board, is also promising a good school for Belchertown.

“Thanks to our collaborative work with local officials, we are working to build a 21st century educational facility that will provide Belchertown students with a top-notch learning environment,” Goldberg said.

South Hadley project

Meanwhile, South Hadley’s school project, which is not as far along, is being invited to the eligibility period, during which the district will have to complete preliminary requirements for local approval and form a local school building committee.

The exact plan is uncertain, but the minimum request being made by South Hadley is a new elementary school to teach first through fifth grades, while the district’s bigger request involves a new school that houses both elementary and middle school students. Should the new building happen, first graders would move to the school from Plains Elementary, and fifth graders would move to the school from Michael E. Smith Middle School.

If the eligibility period requirements are successfully completed, the school district then becomes eligible for a possible invitation into the feasibility study phase of the MSBA capital pipeline. During that phase, based on another MSBA vote, the condition of Mosier will be evaluated and the most cost-effective design will be determined. South Hadley has saved $850,000 over the last five years to pay for this study.

Pichetti said the eligibility period is a critical step in the MSBA’s process of evaluating potential work on Mosier. “We look forward to our continued partnership with the district as it enters the eligibility period,” Pichetti said.

“The MSBA will work collaboratively with local officials to ensure the best outcome for the district’s students,” Goldberg said.

The MSBA partners with Massachusetts communities on new school buildings. Since being created in 2004, the MSBA has approved 1,027 projects and has made over $16.7 billion in reimbursements for school construction projects across the state.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.