School Committee moves forward for new DeBerry/Homer school

Oct. 15, 2019 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The School Committee took some initial steps on creating a new joint elementary school that would combine the Home Street School with William N. DeBerry Elementary School.

Mayor Domenic Sarno read the reasons for the new school as part of the motion to authorize moving forward with the project: “The existing William N. DeBerry Elementary School opened in 1951. The current building has been deemed structurally unsound due to an inadequate floor structure. The existing Homer Street Elementary School opened in 1898. The current building is antiquated and its educational spaces  are insufficient for proper facilitation of today’s educational programming. The proposed site for this new consolidated building is the existing William N. DeBerry Elementary School site (670 Union St.) along with the adjacent park land (48 Eastern Ave.). The proposed site is approximately 5.5 acres and has been identified by the project team as the optimal location for the new consolidated building. The new consolidated building will serve approximately 800 students with an additional 120 Pre-K students. The site provides sufficient space for a three-story 155,000 square foot school with appropriate configurations and relationships among educational spaces.  Further, the conceptual design meets exterior program requirements for vehicular drop off/pick up, parking, pedestrian access, gathering, outdoor play, service/delivery and emergency access is  possible. Since this is a neutral site, the existing schools can remain in use while the new school is being constructed. The two schools will be consolidated into one building but each school will maintain its individual identity. Some spaces such as the gym, library and cafeteria will be shared, but otherwise the schools will have separate educational and support spaces required to maintain independent schools.”

Peter Garvey, director of the city’s Capital Asset Construction, explained to the committee, the timeline for the project is to bring it to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in December, complete the design in July 2021 and start construction after that with occupancy on August 2023.

School Superintendent Daniel Warwick added the district has prepared a boundary re-alignment plan that would increase enrollment at DeBerry from two classes per grade level to three classes per grade level with a target of increasing enrollment by 160 students, Homer Street would also see an increase in enrollment of 30 students with the new school. The boundary plan would also “keep as many elementary school students as possible within walking distance of their assigned elementary school.”

The committee also recognized that John J. Duggan Academy has been taken out of Level 4 status, only one of two schools to do that this year.

Warwick said the move was a result of “ a tremendous, tremendous team effort.” He added he has seen gain across every indicator at the school.

Duggan Principal Michael Calvanese has been working on the turnaround since 2014 and said the main problem he had to solve was to address the high amount of staff turnover, He believes that by improving the situation for teachers there could be a “steady stream” of growth in the classroom. He credited his administrative and teaching staff for the progress.

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