The Town of Amherst held a special town-wide election on Tuesday, May 2nd to authorize the Town to levy additional property taxes beyond the limits of Proposition 2 ½ to pay for the annual debt service costs of a new elementary school located at the Fort River site. According to unofficial election results released Tuesday night by the Amherst Town Clerk, there was a total voter turnout of 4,050 with 3,272, or 81%, voting yes.
The proposed new Fort River Elementary School will replace both the Wildwood and Fort River Elementary Schools with one new school at the Fort River site. The School District plans to move the sixth grade to the Middle School. The new three-story school will serve 575 children in grades kindergarten through 5th grade.
The school will have 21st Century learning environments, with flexible teaching spaces in daylight filled classrooms and shared spaces. It will be home to Special Needs and the Caminantes dual language programs. The cafeteria will include a stage and connection to music rooms. The design will allow for secure after-hours use of the community spaces (cafetorium, gym, library). The building will have safe entrances/exits and be fully accessible. Site plans provide for outdoor learning as well as play. The project will restore and improve drainage of Fort River’s community fields for recreational use by children and the broader community.
Reflecting Amherst’s climate goals, the building will be highly insulated and use all-electric and renewable energy systems. It will be a net-zero building using ground source heat pumps for heating, air, and ventilation and on-site photovoltaic system for renewable energy.
Town Leaders React
Upon hearing the results of the vote, Town Council President Lynn Griesemer said, “This is a significant moment in Amherst’s history. The affirmative vote for the new Elementary School is a clear statement of our community’s support for education and the environment.”
Town Councilor Cathy Schoen, who also chairs the Elementary School Building Committee, stated, “With the positive vote, we can move forward to build a school for our children, our climate, and our community’s future. The school will be an exciting learning lab for the next generation about the environment and renewable, clean energy. On behalf of the Elementary School Building Committee, I thank voters for the strong endorsement and willingness to invest in our shared future.”
Superintendent of Schools Mike Morris added, “I am overjoyed at the level of support for this building project because of the enormous impact it will have on the education of the children of Amherst.”
Town Manager Paul Bockelman concluded, “The voters have again stated their unambiguous support for this important project. The Town will now take advantage of the $40 million grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and will move immediately to the final design of the building and surrounding grounds. This is going to be an incredible, net-zero energy school that will be a valuable resource to the entire community for decades to come.”
The Elementary School Building Committee will be working through the summer reviewing designs and engaging members of the elementary schools and the broader community in this process.
Information on the Elementary School Building project can be found here: https://www.amherst-school-project.com/