AGAWAM — Though nobody spoke in opposition to the proposed new Agawam High School project at a May 29 public information meeting, audience members did have questions for Mayor Christopher Johnson about the $230 million estimated cost.

Chris Sanchez asked if that number was likely to change. Johnson said the construction estimates were based on the anticipated cost of construction in the years it will take place. Schools built by the town’s chosen contractor, Fontaine Bros., tended to come in on budget, he said. Only 13% of the project involves renovating existing spaces, which he said contributes to most unexpected construction costs.

“This being mostly new construction — we’re confident that it’s going to come in on budget,” he said.

The renovations include repurposing the current school’s technical education wing into a pre-kindergarten building and preserving the brick entrance facing Mill Street. New to the complex will be a two-story building consisting of two wings with a courtyard between them, which will be built in two phases. Construction is estimated to begin in July 2025 and to last three years.

The meeting was a chance for Johnson to promote the project before town voters make a decision, on June 11, whether to support a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion to fund it.

Mark Del Negro asked whether, if the project runs over budget, the town would ask voters for more money or scale back the project. Johnson said a request for more money would have to be approved by the City Council and the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the latter of which is expected to contribute over $99 million, reducing the town’s share to $132 million or less. However, he reiterated the cost was unlikely to change.

“The state is sharing the cost and they’re paying it as the project is being constructed,” he said. “They want the most comprehensive, hard and fast estimate they can lay their hands on. They don’t want to share in any cost increase based upon it being a poor estimate,” Johnson said.

Asked about property values, Johnson said the cost — and therefore, the tax impact on the average single-family homeowner — won’t change even if property values increase, since the cost of the bond will be the same.

Audience members, like Sanchez and Noreen Vinciguerra, also asked Johnson about school safety. Johnson said the new high school, to be built on the current site of grass fields next to the existing school at Cooper and Mill streets, would be more compact and safer. He noted the current one-story building has more than 50 doors on the first floor.

“Try to imagine how you can maintain a decent plan relative to school safety with that, and that doesn’t include all the first floor level windows, as well,” he said.

Johnson said lead architect Kent Kovacs and his team put state-of-the-art safety protocols into the school’s design, such as locking mechanisms on doors and closed-circuit cameras. The new school, he said, will also have fewer entry points and give students and staff a greater ability to shelter in place.

“We hate to bring it up, because you never know,” he said. “No matter, every precaution you take, it might not be enough. But I can tell you that [Principal Jim] Blain’s going to sleep a whole lot better in the new building than he does now.”

Besides answering questions, Johnson argued in favor of voting “yes” in the special election.

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” he said. “When we walked around the building, we said, ‘why can’t we just renovate?’ And then, when you learn the reality of what it would cost to renovate, to meet current code, the only thing that makes sense is to build a new school.”

He also said it would be “foolish” to pump money into renovating the old school, a project that Johnson said will be necessary if voters say “no” on June 11. That project would cost over $70 million and would not be eligible for state reimbursement. The difference in cost to local taxpayers between a new school with state reimbursement, and necessary renovations to the old building, is just $10 a month to the average single-family homeowner, he said. The main building of the old high school opened in 1955, with additions and renovations built in the 1970s, 1980s, 2000s and 2010s.

“Very simply put: Why should you vote for a new high school? Because it’s the right thing to do. Whether you have kids in the school system or you don’t, it’s the right thing to do,” Johnson said.

The authorization for the debt exclusion is the only item on the special election ballot. Voting is 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 11, at the town’s traditional polling places:

  • Precinct 1: Sapelli School, formerly Robinson Park School, 65 Begley St., Agawam.
  • Precinct 2: Granger School, 31 S. Westfield St., Feeding Hills.
  • Precinct 3: Agawam High School, 760 Cooper St., Agawam.
  • Precinct 4: Doering School, 68 Main St., Agawam.
  • Precinct 5: Phelps School, 689 Main St., Agawam.
  • Precincts 6 and 8: Clark School, 65 Oxford St., Agawam.
  • Precinct 7: Agawam Junior High School, 1305 Springfield St., Feeding Hills

Residents can find out their voting location at sec.state.ma.us/WhereDoIVoteMA/WhereDoIVote.

Voters can apply for an absentee ballot at the clerk’s office in Town Hall, 36 Main St., Agawam, which is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Absentee requests are due by noon Monday, June 10.

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