Consultants recommend consolidation of Pioneer facilities, with full report coming in January

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-01-2024 5:05 PM

NORTHFIELD — The consulting company working with the Pioneer Valley Regional School District to consider its facilities use recently presented a consolidation recommendation to the School Committee in anticipation of releasing a full report in January.

Representatives from CannonDesign, a global architecture, engineering and consulting firm, appeared before the School Committee on Dec. 14 to share their professional recommendation, as well as the District Planning Committee’s thoughts, on the how the district should proceed in its future facilities decisions. The District Planning Committee is made up of school administrators, staff, two School Committee members, students and families.

After months of work, several meetings with the District Planning Committee and two community forums, CannonDesign is recommending Pioneer think about pursuing a consolidation of its district — known as Scenario 3 — where pre-K through sixth grade and seventh through 12 grade students are housed on the same campus, which would leave the two elementary schools to be repurposed in some way by their municipal owners.

“We observed, in the community members that came out and participated in this process, the needle moved in terms of their perspectives on it,” CannonDesign Education Strategy Leader Paul Mills said of the consolidation option. “The unanimous consensus of the [District Planning Committee] and our professional recommendation to you as a School Committee is to approve Scenario 3 for one campus.”

The other contending option was to keep the district in its current configuration, but Mills said the enthusiasm and general consensus among those who participated in the forums, compared to those who just took the survey, showed a strong leaning toward Scenario 3. Nearly 250 people participated in the first survey offered in the fall.

“When people engage and understand underlying goals … and are being participants in the design-thinking process, people get a little more comfortable with change,” Mills said, noting this is a “consistent” observation in his work around the country.

There was also some discussion on how the district, if it were to follow the recommendation, could pursue funding, with the Massachusetts School Building Authority being the chief option. The authority’s “statement of interest” window for grant applications opens in January and closes in April.

While the recommendation was shared, the School Committee took no official action on the matter, as the full report will be delivered and more conversations can be had among the member towns, which was a concern of School Committee member and Leyden Town Coordinator Michele Giarusso.

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“We haven’t even met with the towns, the Selectboards and the Finance Committees,” Giarusso said. “I don’t even know what Northfield and Bernardston are thinking for their five- to 10-year plan on their elementary schools.”

Mills noted many town officials have attended the community forums and other meetings related to the facilities planning. Superintendent Patricia Kinsella also emphasized CannonDesign was just offering a presentation on Dec. 14 and no vote was to be taken.

As the School Committee wrapped up its discussion in anticipation of the full facilities report coming soon, Lex Singh, the committee’s student representative and a member of the District Planning Committee, requested the committee and district continue to include students on these types of initiatives, especially on the heels of many students favoring the consolidation scenario.

“As the generation who’s currently in this building and thinking about the generations to come, our request to you is to be educated on the decisions that you make,” Singh said. “There’s a chance for change here and I think you should take it.”

For more information about the district’s facilities planning process, visit its webpage at pvrsdk12.org/about/facilities-master-plan.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.