Matt and Emily Holloway: Why Wildwood is best site for new Amherst school

Thursday, June 09, 2022

We support the current Wildwood School site as the best choice for a consolidated elementary school in Amherst. Building at the current Wildwood School site would create a “campus” model, with elementary, middle, and high schools all within walking distance to each other.

Younger kids could walk (supervised) across the “campus” to see art, drama, and sports performances involving the older students. The pre-K-12 “campus” model would also facilitate a more integrated partnership between the Amherst elementary schools and the regional school district for sharing staff resources and community engagement. From student internships, assemblies, and mixed-age activities to staff vertical integration and collaboration, location matters and Wildwood is the stronger choice.

The current Wildwood site is better situated to withstand the long-term effects of climate change and environmental safety. The Fort River site raises a number of concerns. We are worried about the idea of building a school so close to a floodplain, with rising groundwater levels a constant threat.

A 2014 report from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission identified the need for cleanup of a former coal gasification plant at the Pelham Road/Fort River Crossing. We are concerned about health impacts from this potential contamination.

Wildwood will also require site preparation work, but it is the better option in this regard. We are also concerned about the amount and speed of the traffic at the South East Street location, and its proximity to the very busy South East-Main Street intersection, not to mention the effect of doubling the school-based traffic at that intersection every morning and afternoon.

Finally, although it is never easy to consider the financial impacts of educational decisions, preliminary estimates from the project management team places the Fort River site option nearly $4.5 million higher than Wildwood. Wildwood is the stronger financial choice as well, an important factor when considering the Town Council’s ambitious agenda for the next five to 10 years.

We strongly encourage the Elementary School Building Committee to set the new Amherst elementary school at the current Wildwood School site.

Matt and Emily Holloway