Chris Riddle: Would now vote for Amherst school project

Thursday, December 15, 2016
Would now vote for Amherst school project

I was unsure how to vote in Town Meeting on the Amherst elementary school article, and ended up abstaining.

I was certain that Amherst must replace the Wildwood and Fort River buildings, and that risking the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s $34 million contribution is unwise. But I was also drawn to arguments made by the opposition.

Now, after learning that the MSBA will not consider a revised application, I have reconsidered and will vote in favor if there is a revote.

Here are the opposition’s points that resonated for me then but which I now feel are either unfounded or insufficient.

Reapplication won’t postpone the project for long: The recent word from the MSBA suggests the opposite – that school kids will still be in these horrible buildings for many years to come.

Loss of neighborhood schools: This is another valid issue, but it’s balanced by the fact that neighborhood schools necessarily reflect the demography of their neighborhoods, a back-door form of segregation. The School Committee has honestly tried to address this equity issue with the current plan.

The early childhood center at Crocker is an untested idea with problems: One concern was about pick up and drop off for parents with kids both in Crocker and Wildwood/Fort River. That’s valid but insufficient to say no to the MSBA’s support. Another was that young kids will have to change schools between 1st and 2nd grade which isn’t valid. Now they have to change schools between preschool and kindergarten, which they won’t have to do with the early childhood center, which has preschool.

Pollution from buses in the parking lot: This is a concern that can be addressed by using modern hybrid or electric buses, which we eventually will do.

Teachers and parents oppose the plan: I understand now that there is strong support from these two groups.

Tax burden on struggling homeowners: This concern would only be addressed by leaving these two schools as they are. If we replace them without state support, people’s taxes will have to carry an extra $34 million burden.

Chris Riddle


The writer is a Town Meeting member from Precinct 2.