AMHERST — Several months after voters pushed the project forward in a special election, construction of Amherst’s new elementary school is expected to begin in March.

After Anser Advisory, the town’s owner’s project manager, reviewed seven bids, Town Manager Paul Bockelman awarded the “Early Site Package” bid to Gagliarducci Construction of Springfield, the firm responsible for laying the groundwork for the project before the construction of the building itself.

Anser recommended that Bockelman award the bid to Gagliarducci after reviewing the firm’s qualifications and checked references.

According to an announcement on the town’s website, the bid was for $2,248,000, $652,000 below the project estimated cost of $2.9 million. This sum will provide added contingency for other parts of the project.

The scope of the contract with Gagliarducci includes fencing, erosion controls, stormwater management, roadwork, early site demolition, excavation and removal of topsoil and subsoil, the installation of rammed aggregate piers as foundation support and the placement of materials to compact the site of the new building.

“This early site package will prepare the site for the construction of the building and the remainder of the project including final site work and demolition of the existing building upon occupancy of the new building,” read the town website.

The impending work means there will be significant changes to the circulation of vehicles entering and exiting the Fort River Elementary School once Gagliarducci begins its work.

The current southern entrance to Fort River will be closed to traffic since that area will become a construction entrance/exit. When that change occurs, all school traffic will utilize the northern entrance closest to Main Street.

According to the town, more information on the traffic changes will be shared in the near future.

“As we break ground for the town’s new elementary school, it symbolizes the next step in the construction of a building that will provide students an opportunity to matriculate in this wonderful setting while learning about how a net zero energy facility works,” said Town Council President Lynn Griesemer, regarding the recent updates.

Bockelman shared an equal amount of jubilation for this first step.

“This is an important first step in the actual construction of our new Fort River Elementary School,” Bockelman said. “We continue to focus on final design elements and will pay close attention to the costs to ensure we stay within the budget established by the town and approved by the voters.”

The new school, which has been in the plans for Amherst for more than a decade, will be built to the south of the existing Fort River Elementary School on adjacent open land that is currently used for fields.
The proposed new school will replace Wildwood Elementary and Fort River Elementary Schools with one new elementary school on the Fort River site. It will be a net zero building that utilizes ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic panels to supply 100% energy for the building.

Plans for the new school officially moved forward after 82% of Amherst voters were in favor of the project during last May’s special election, where more than 4,000 residents took part in voting.

The special election vote authorizes the town to proceed by levying additional property taxes beyond the limits of Proposition 2½.

The new school will be three stories and have a capacity of 575 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Each grade is planned to have five classrooms, according to the town.

The plan also includes moving Amherst’s sixth-grade students to Amherst Regional Middle School.
Once the initial work with Gagliarducci is complete, a second bid for the construction of the building itself will officially go out in June.

The hope is that the new elementary school is officially built before the school year starts in 2026. The town will then embark on demolishing the existing Fort River Elementary School and finishing final site work. That stage of the project is expected to occur in late 2026.

“What an exciting step for our town,” said Amherst School Committee Chair Sarah Marshall, regarding the upcoming phase of the project. “After years of debating and planning, we will soon break ground for a beautiful, modern, efficient school building. The Amherst community strongly supports this project, so I know my excitement is shared by thousands of other residents, old and young alike.”

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