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WEST SPRINGFIELD — For three Town Council members considering plans to build a new elementary school, the question was “why rush,” especially as the planning process will take years.

But for a majority of the Town Council, the response was: Why wait longer than necessary?

Councilors voted 6-3 on April 1 to support the proposal by the School Committee and Mayor William Reichelt to enter a “statement of interest” with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to build a new school serving pre-kindergarten through grade 5. The application lists Fausey School and John Ashley Kindergarten as the buildings to be replaced.

Reichelt said if the vote hadn’t taken place before an April 12 deadline, the town would have had to wait until 2025 to be considered. If it isn’t accepted this year, it can reapply in future years. If accepted into the program, the MSBA would help West Springfield determine its school facility needs, and would provide a reimbursement of some of the building costs.

“Coburn School took three submissions to the MSBA until we were finally given approval,” said Council President Sean Powers, referring to the kindergarten and elementary school that opened in fall 2022. For Fausey, “this is our first submission. I would like to know what my options are.”

Reichelt has said a new school will likely cost more than $100 million, but MSBA reimbursements would cover about 75% of that. Renovation costs on older buildings are generally not covered by the MSBA.

Powers said he and the mayor are planning to assemble an advisory committee including some councilors, School Committee members and residents to debate future school needs and come up with a long-range plan.

District 2 Councilor Michael LaFlamme said parents and taxpayers are confused by the different school reorganization plans proposed over the past year. As recently as January it appeared Mittineague School, the oldest current school, would close, until a petition drive forced the School Committee to drop that plan. School administrators also were talking of merging Memorial and Tatham schools into one new building.

“I don’t see the harm in trying to slow this process down a bit and taking a step back, realizing that there are a lot of people in the community that disagree with this direction and want to get a little transparency on where we’re going,” LaFlamme said.

He said it feels as though the proposal is “moving too fast.” He noted that the School Committee had to reapprove the statement of interest at its March 26 meeting because the original version it submitted to the Town Council still contained a reference to closing Mittineague.

The other two votes against the statement of interest came from District 4 Councilor Fred Connor, who represents the Fausey School neighborhood, and at-large Councilor Daniel O’Brien. Connor said he would rather see the money used on maintaining existing buildings and on faculty salaries. O’Brien said he isn’t convinced that West Springfield’s future enrollment will justify the extra space. He said building a new school is a ploy to add classrooms that will be used for universal pre-kindergarten, which he said would be more expensive than it is worth.

A couple other councilors said the project isn’t yet a “slam dunk,” but that it’s also not time yet to vote against it. Councilor Brian Griffin said he’d like to see the planning process play out, and let future town councilors vote yes or no when it comes time to start spending money. Councilor Anthony DiStefano said he put stock in the vote of the School Committee — also an elected body — to support the project.

Mittineague was built in 1871. John Ashley, Memorial and Tatham were all built in the 1950s. Fausey opened in 1960.

Room taxes rising

Councilors voted 8-1 to raise the local room occupancy tax from 4% to 6%. O’Brien voted against it, saying the cost will simply be passed on to consumers, who will then reduce their other local spending, including tips for housekeepers.

The local charge is only one component of the overall tax on hotel rooms in West Springfield. Hotel guests also pay a statewide room tax and a regional room tax to support the convention center in Springfield.

mballway@thereminder.com | + posts