Greenfield seeks answers for $1M in state funds for Green River School

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: 04-12-2024 5:31 PM

Modified: 04-12-2024 7:33 PM


GREENFIELD — As the Greenfield School Department works to decommission the vacant Green River School and transfer ownership to the city, challenges have arisen as the district works to tie up loose financial ends with the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

Over the last few years, the MSBA has funded more than $1 million in grants and loans for repairs necessary to reopen the school, which has been completely vacant for more than four years. However, the school was never reopened. As the district shifts it plans to decommissioning the Meridian Street building and revamping it for an alternate use, officials are unsure how much money, if any, the district must repay the MSBA.

“I continue to review the requirements for taking Green River offline through the Massachusetts School Building Authority. I have the documents required and have reached out to MSBA with further questions. This process will not be a fast process,” Superintendent Christine DeBarge wrote in a statement to the Re-envisioning Our School Facilities Subcommittee on Tuesday. “I would also suggest that if the building is returned to the city’s responsibility, decision-making about future uses would rest with the City Council or the mayor, and not the School Committee.”

On Wednesday, DeBarge went before the School Committee to outline the remaining steps necessary in the decommissioning process, explaining that Mayor Ginny Desorgher and School Committee Chair Glenn Johnson-Mussad must first sign off on a notice to the MSBA, which will precede a financial audit on the Green River School and an evaluation on the building. Only then, DeBarge said, will the agency inform the committee of any money that may be owed.

Responding to the superintendent’s statement to the subcommittee, School Committee member Stacey Sexton agreed the building should be under the city’s control once it’s decommissioned as a school, but they did not want to “dump” the monetary implications associated with the building’s reuse onto the city.

“I want to know what the liability might be for this. As of yet, we have not been able to get an exact figure for what that might be or what the terms of repayment might look like,” Sexton said.

Neither Sexton nor Desorgher said they knew exactly how much money the city would owe the MSBA. However, at the subcommittee’s Tuesday night meeting, Desorgher speculated that, given decreased enrollment rates throughout the nation, other communities in the state must be facing similar predicaments.

The mayor also speculated that should the building be reused in a way that at least partly involved child care or education, it might still qualify for the MSBA grant funding it received.

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“There must be all kinds of municipalities throughout the state that have seen declining enrollment and are excessing buildings, because this is the way the trend is going,” Desorgher said. “I’m thinking this entity also would realize how problematic it is for cities and towns to be paying for the education of children. … That’s something that I could imagine they would understand, but I don’t know.”

Subcommittee members also brainstormed potential future uses for the building. Sexton said they have received feedback from residents suggesting the property be used for affordable or community-based housing.

Sexton said they also received an email from the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra requesting that the property be used to house its Strings for Kids program. They added that, per Desorgher’s suggestion, it would be worth considering use options that blend education with other uses in an attempt to retain MSBA funding.

School Committee member Ann Childs noted that there might be some complications involved with using an MSBA-funded property to host a program that requires payment. Ultimately, the subcommittee agreed that future use of the building should be left to the city and community feedback.

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