Planning the new Plains School

by Town Reminder

    Turley Publications artist rendering courtesy of the Selectboard
    An artist rendering of the proposed layout for a two-story Plains Elementary School illustrates the school building shifted closer to the current drop-off circle, a larger parking lot in the current location of the recess area, an environmental education/outdoor classroom to the top left of the image and hard-surface and nature play areas outlined in white and light green in front of the depicted school building.

Planning the new Plains School

Officials weigh benefits of one, two stories

By Kristin Will
Staff Writer

SOUTH HADLEY – Having agreed upon a location for the new Plains Elementary School Building, officials must now determine whether one story or two will better serve the needs of students.
In the design plans for both types, the new school building has shifted to the right when viewing the edifice from Lyman Street.
Similar in the majority of characteristics, neither site would require phasing or incur additional traffic costs. Invasion of wetlands is not a problem for either proposal and endangered species would not be disturbed.
Potential future plans for Mosier Elementary School would not be limited with these existing locations, as would the remaining options for the new school location.
Another pro for both sites is the playing field adjacent to the new school.
Unfortunately, no other primary schools are located in close proximity- the only con to either proposal.
Roughly, the cost for a one or two-story school would fall between the $22 and $26 million range. Construction of a two-story building would cost less than a one-story.
“The two-story option has some advantages,” said John Hine, a member of the South Hadley School Building Committee and Selectboard Chair at the April 24 meeting of the Selectboard. He added the two-story building appeared to be the preference of the School Building Committee. This option would maintain a smaller footprint and would offer more open space than a one-story building.
The plan for a new Plains Elementary School has been in the works since 2004 when an Elementary School Facilities Study Committee recommended the formation of a Building Needs Committee in order to work with an architect to evaluate the building’s needs. In September of 2006, five options were presented to the town, ranging from taking no action to construction. In June of 2007, members were selected to the South Hadley Building Committee, which was charged with maintaining renovation/construction plans within Massachusetts School Building Authority time and guidelines. Finally, on Nov. 9, 2010, Town Meeting Members voted to appropriate $750,000 for a feasibility study/schematic design to be carried out to determine if renovation of the current building or construction of a new one was needed.
It has now been determined a new building is in fact necessary.
Currently, the 80-year-old Plains Elementary School building is in need of serious infrastructure updates. Classrooms are undersized and overcrowded. Portable classrooms set up more than 20-years ago to aid in housing an abundance of students are still used today –much beyond their lifespan.
Special Education classrooms are considered inadequate, as are exterior program facilities. The ventilation system is not up to par and the fire-alarm system and protection is deemed antiquated. The library and computer rooms are too small and accessibility to particular rooms and the building itself proves to be problematic. Finally, the parking predicament and drop-off/pick-up areas are not adequate.
Design schematics for an updated building of one or two stories show four clusters of classrooms – three consisting of kindergarten and first-grade students with the fourth cluster consisting of just pre-k students. In the middle of the clusters is a media center with art and music rooms. The gym area and cafeteria are grouped together away from the classroom clusters, opposite the point of entry to the school.
At this point in the project, a land issue must be figured out. A 17-acre parcel of land on which officials would like to build a new school abuts the current Plains Elementary School building and runs behind a home on Lyman Street. Previously, it was thought the Conservation Commission owned this land. But, as Hine pointed during the April 24 Selectboard meeting, research was conducted which revealed ownership of the land was transferred to the town of South Hadley in the 1900s. The deed does not show any conservation restrictions in regard to land use, said Hine. At some point, the Conservation Commission began to consider the land as part of conservation land. The acreage is home to the Black Stevens Conservation area and a handful of walking trails.
An idea was tossed out during the meeting to use four to four-and-a-half acres of the parcel for the new Plains Elementary School building and officially transfer the remaining approximate 13 acres to the Conservation Commission.
Regardless, the ownership problem will need to be sorted out in the near future, as schematic designs of either a one or two-story building will be developed between May and July, with the final designs needing to be submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority by August 9.