© 2023
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

With state funding approved, Holyoke is set to build a new middle school

The Peck School, build in the 1970's, will be demolished to make way for a new state-of-the-art middle school.
Paul Tuthill
The Peck School, build in the 1970's, will be demolished to make way for a new state-of-the-art middle school.

Site preparation work for the $85.5 million project will start this summer

After years of controversy in Holyoke, Massachusetts, construction of a new middle school is expected to start later this year.

The recent decision by the Massachusetts School Building Authority to reimburse Holyoke for over half the estimated $85.5 million price tag to build a new middle school means the final steps can now be taken locally to bring the project to reality.

“This means that it is time for Holyoke,” said Mayor Joshua Garcia, who thanked the directors of the authority and said the city’s financial team and the City Council worked together to agree on a plan for paying for the city’s share of the project.

“It’s been a long time coming. I want to say ten years or so that this community has been trying to understand the best path forward to meet the needs of our middle school-aged population,” he said.

In 2019, the city’s voters rejected a property tax increase to pay to build two new middle schools. Officials then began pursuing alternatives and settled on a plan for a single new school building.

The city will not have to go back to the voters because its $40 million share of the project can be covered through long-term borrowing, said City Treasurer Rory Casey.

“We’ve been able to work strategically to use some one-time money we have from the state and federal governments to make capital investments that will free up capacity in our regular budget to pay for this,” Casey said.

Later this summer, it’s expected a contractor will be hired to demolish the Peck School and clear the site for the construction of the new school.

A study in 2016 found the Peck School, which was built in the 1970’s, is unsuited for the needs of modern education. The new school will be built with classrooms for 500 students. It will have music and art classrooms and space can be configured to host large community events, said Erin Linville, chief financial and strategy officer for the Holyoke schools.

“We just cannot wait to get this building built because it is what our students need and deserve,” Linville said. “It will be a great learning space to meet the needs of a modern education.”

While a lot of effort has gone into getting a new school building, the state has funded about $20 million in repairs and renovations to Holyoke schools over the last seven years, said Linville.

“We’ve done roofing projects, new windows, new flooring, new doors, air conditioning,” Linville said. “We’ve really been able to invest to upgrade those buildings.”

Finally getting a new school built after years of controversy sends a powerful message to state education leaders that the city is ready to again run its public schools that were put in state receivership in 2015, said Garcia.

“Stepping up its accountability and responsibility as far as how we make decisions to be sure our children are getting what they deserve sends really good messages to the state that it is indeed time for this city to take back local control of its (school) district,” Garcia said.

A major redistricting of the Holyoke Public Schools is going to begin during the next academic year. The current K-8 and grades 9-12 system will evolve to an elementary, middle school, and high school model.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.