Pioneer School Committee to pursue single-campus idea

CannonDesign Education Strategy Leader Paul Mills speaks to the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee Thursday evening as the committee voted to move forward with the consultant’s facilities plan recommendation.

CannonDesign Education Strategy Leader Paul Mills speaks to the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee Thursday evening as the committee voted to move forward with the consultant’s facilities plan recommendation. SCREENSHOT/BERNARDSTON NORTHFIELD COMMUNITY TELEVISION

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-26-2024 4:04 PM

NORTHFIELD — After a final facilities recommendation was shared with the Pioneer Valley Regional School District, the School Committee voted Thursday evening to move forward with pursuing the one-campus plan laid out by consulting company CannonDesign.

The proposed plan, which would take more than half a decade to carry out and more than $100 million in facility investments, would bring all students in the school district under Pioneer Valley Regional School’s roof and allow for both elementary schools to be repurposed for other uses by Bernardston and Northfield. It also addresses the main challenges facing the district, with aging facilities, enrollment decline, a potential merger with Gill-Montague and limited local resources topping the list.

Paul Mills, CannonDesign’s education strategy leader, said feedback from the community — especially those currently in school — was clear: an investment into the district’s facilities is an investment into the future education of Pioneer students.

“This isn’t just a money and dollars and cents thing, this is really about education and about students,” he said. “No one has a larger stake in this than them, and their voice is loud and clear in our conversations and in the survey information that this is a priority to be taken care of.”

Over the course of several months in the fall, CannonDesign worked with the school’s District Planning Committee — made up of administrators, staff, School Committee members, students and families — as well as directly with the community through surveys and forums to come up with its recommendation.

While the School Committee voted to move forward in the process, it has not committed any money to the effort because the district is going to explore funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, as well as federal funding opportunities. Otherwise, the three Pioneer member towns would be likely be unable to afford such a large capital project.

Pioneer plans to submit a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is the first step of applying for the grant. The agency needs “districts to inform us about deficiencies that may exist in a local school facility and how those deficiencies inhibit the delivery of the district’s educational program,” the MSBA’s website reads. The period to submit a statement of interest opened Jan. 12 and closes in the spring.

Pioneer’s Director of Finance and Operations Jordan Burns said some sort of additional funding would be required to undertake this long-term process and emphasized to the committee Thursday that a vote to move forward with the recommendation was “not making a decision to spend $100 million tonight.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

In wake of damage from 62 mph winds, hundreds left without power
In wake of damage from 62 mph winds, hundreds left without power
Talks reveal disconnect in helping Greenfield’s immigrants
Yankee Candle consolidation prompts loss of 100 jobs
‘Quintessential small-town cop’ ends a chapter: Gill sergeant retiring after 18 years
Northfield seeks new EMS chief upon Fortier’s departure

“If we don’t have a partner in the state, to be direct, we don’t really have a way forward. Our communities aren’t going to support 100% of a new project, but there’s a potential that our communities could support a fraction,” Burns said. “The only way to know is to move forward with the recommendations and the [statement of interest] process.”

School Committee member Karen O’Neil said the lack of commitment to any long-term financial appropriations made it sensible to approve the recommendation, as their only commitment at this point is to beginning the MSBA’s grant process.

“I think it’s very clearly laid out and I understand we’re not committing to going through the entire process, but getting in line,” she said, before making a motion to pursue CannonDesign’s recommendation.

The School Committee approved the motion with no discussion, 5-2, with Stephen Martin absent. Michele Giarusso and Silvia Cummings voted “no.”

The district’s facilities master plan, as well as CannonDesign’s final report, can be found on the school website at pvrsdk12.org/about/facilities-master-plan.

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