| Sarah Heinonen
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The West Springfield Public School district will see various projects take place throughout 2020, but the largest and most complex, by far, is the one that will bring the new Coburn Elementary School to fruition.
Acting Assistant Superintendent Kevin McQuillan, who is heading up the project for the district, explained that while progress on a much-needed new school may not be visible yet, a lot of work is happening behind-the-scenes.
Why does West Side need a new Coburn?
As it is now, the 93-year-old Coburn Elementary School building at 112 Southworth St., has several issues, not the least of which is that it was designed as a junior high school, rather than an elementary school.
Aside from a layout that was meant to serve an older population, the school was also designed to serve a much smaller population. The building accommodates 519 area children, those in grades one through five and some kindergarten English language students in just 34,000 usable square feet.
The new Coburn will consist of grades kindergarten through 5 and the students who now attend the nearby Cowing Alternative School, totaling an expected 705 students. There will be 78,600 square feet of education space, including a large gymnasium, cafeteria, stage, library, and two media centers. McQuillan said the once the Cowing building is no longer used by the district, ownership will revert to the town.
How did we get here and who is paying for it?
The construction of the new facility requires a detailed process, approved at nearly every stage by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). The MSBA, an organization that helps fund the construction of public education facilities in the state through reimbursement grants, has been working hand-in-hand with the district on the project.
“The most significant milestone, so far, was the approval of the funding,” McQuillan said.
In October 2019, the town council voted to appropriate the total cost of the project, $69,036,380. While not all costs are eligible for reimbursement from the MSBA, 80 percent of eligible costs are coming back to the town in the estimated amount of $39,230,579. The town of West Springfield will pick up the tab for the remaining $29,801,201.
“The reimbursement rates are based on a formula that takes into account demographics,” said McQuillan. He said the budget for the project is in line with estimates. McQuillan said the “next big telling point” will be when the bids come in in the fall.
Timeline for the project
The project is now in the design development phase, which involves tweaking the agreed-upon layouts so that the architects, TSKP Studios and Dietz and Co., and the owner’s project manager, NV5, can put together construction documents, similar to blueprints.
The next stages are the completion of the construction drawings, which will be submitted to the MSBA for approval again when they are 60 percent and 90 percent complete.
The project will then go out to bid in the summer and a contract will be awarded in the fall. The groundbreaking is expected at the end of 2020. For students, the most immediate impact of construction will be the cessation of outside recess for safety reasons.
The new building will be constructed alongside the old one and will take approximately two years. It is expected to be move-in ready for the 2022-2023 school year, McQuillan said.
Once the new facility is completed, the existing building will be demolished to create parking for the new school.
The new site plan required the purchase of some additional land.
“There were a number residences on Lathrop Street that the town bought to square the site,” McQuillan said. The apartment buildings are where the eventual pre-K parking lot and pre-K playground will sit. The town also purchased a small portion of the adjacent CVS parking lot for the same purpose.
In all stages of the project, the school district is consulting and partnering with various town departments. The department of public works, police department and health department have all been involved with the planning of school to address truck access, site security and kitchen plans, respectively.
While most of the work done on the new Coburn Elementary School over the year will consist of planning, McQuillan said the new school is on track.