In January 2012, the Westfield Education Association (WEA) was asked by the neighborhood group challenging the 96,000 square-foot, 600-student elementary school design proposed at Ashley and Cross Streets, how the union felt about the project. The union said it was shocked when hearing of the school plan and its location during a WEA meeting in November 2009.
There, City Councilor-elect, James Brown, introduced mayor-elect Knapik’s plan for a 600-student school. The people of the old Ashley Street School neighborhood were later stunned when eventually learning that they had helped to elect a city councilor and mayor that hid this critical agenda from the Ward 2 citizens prior to the 2009 elections.
When the school plans were finally made public in June, 2011, residents attended the public meetings to voice legitimate concerns for the enormous impacts the school would impose on neighboring homes including; lack of on-site parking; massive increases in vehicular traffic; just 20 side-of-street drop off spaces; no turn around areas for busses; the faculty and staff having to use St. Peter and St. Casimir’s parking lot; and especially the loss of open space and ball fields from the Cross Street playground. Later on we discovered that the city of Westfield was breaking many state and federal open space laws – laws that we discovered Westfield had known about – that the Cross St. playground was protected in-perpetuity.
Our efforts turned to focus on the arrogant and illegal actions of Westfield’s administration, and to those who helped pave the process to undermine the laws protecting the playground and the neighborhood’s civil rights provided by Article 97, The National Park Service, the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), and the EOEA’s Environmental Justice Policy that are supposed to be guarded by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan.
Mr. Sullivan was also on the School Building Committee – the planning committee formed by Mayor Knapik to help guide this school project to fruition.
After successful and costly legal complaints made by the neighborhood’s residents against the city of Westfield, Mr. Sullivan decided to recuse himself from the School Building Committee.
In the Westfield News
article “New School too Big?” June 25, 2012, Mr. Sullivan says that he doesn’t know where all the Article 97 land is in Westfield. Well, his subordinates did. They were quoted as saying Westfield has to get National Park Service approval first before doing any construction work that alters the use of the Cross Street playground.
They also said that the land is protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution. If you wish to learn more of the details regarding the massive size of this project that is planned to reduce the number of beloved neighborhood elementary schools in Westfield, see www.savetheneighborhood.org
More letters to the editor regarding this project and our legal actions will follow in future editions. Thank you for reading.