City to take over Green River School, though future use remains unclear

Green River School on Meridian Street in Greenfield.

Green River School on Meridian Street in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-17-2024 6:18 PM

GREENFIELD — The School Committee has voted in favor of decommissioning the vacant Green River School, prompting uncertainty as to the site’s future and the status of the more than $1 million in grants and loans issued to the School Department to repair and reopen the building.

Effective Sept. 1, the Green River School on Meridian Street, which has been primarily vacant for more than four years due to issues with its heating system, will be turned over to the city. Over the last few years, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has supplied more than $1 million in grants and loans for repairs necessary to reopen the school, however, those repairs were not made and the school never reopened.

According to Superintendent Christine DeBarge, the School Department is currently in the process of emptying the building, which has been used in recent years as a storage facility.

“The general understanding that I have is that ... there were questions about what would we use Green River for. There was no immediate need, so then the discussion of ‘do we repair the heat if we don’t have a use for the school’ [came up],” DeBarge said.

Although local funds invested in the Green River School are likely to be returned to the city, DeBarge said whether the MSBA funds that were allocated for the school will be returned depends, in part, on the site’s future use. Citing MSBA paperwork, DeBarge said the building is supposed to be used for educational purposes for 50 years following the city’s receipt of the funds. She said the MSBA will notify the district of next steps regarding the funding’s status in time.

“We have had some conversations with a community organization that does provide what I think we can speak to as an educational service,” DeBarge said, “so hopefully, [the MSBA] will consider that if that is the way we go with the use of Green River School in the future. They will consider that in making a decision about repayment of the funding.”

At last week’s School Committee meeting, member Stacey Sexton noted that although the city will ultimately be charged with finding a new use for the site, the decision should follow public input and not be made “behind closed doors.”

“The community is very interested in having a role in deciding what happens with this building and I wanted to be able provide some communication to the community. … There needs to be some communication out about how people can make their preferences or their desires or their ideas known,” Sexton said.

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Mayor Ginny Desorgher, who shared with the committee that another educational-use entity had come forward as a potential tenant of the building, responded to Sexton, noting that the Mayor’s Office would ultimately determine the site’s future use and is open to public feedback. Desorgher clarified that the educational component of the site’s future use will serve as a determining factor in the city’s decision.

School Committee Chair Glenn Johnson-Mussad thanked Desorgher for “taking a risk” by accepting the building. He noted that the district will not receive notification from the MSBA in advance outlining whether a particular use of the site meets the authority’s definition of educational use.

“There’s a little bit of an unknown with that, and if it’s an educational use that involves children, that may very well suffice. We’re opening a door, going to the other side. We don’t know what’s on the other side, but there are two decisions here — whether the building remains vacant or not,” Desorgher said. “An educational use is something that may very well be the deal-breaker, for lack of a better word.”

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.