City leaders, district officials and students pose at the groundbreaking of the new middle school building site.
Photo credit: Holyoke Public Schools

HOLYOKE — Community and school leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at the site of the former William R. Peck Middle School that will soon be the grounds of a new middle school building.

Mayor Joshua Garcia led the press conference standing in front of the empty site alongside School Committee members, City Councilors and district students.

“I feel extremely fortunate to be at this point today with this project. With all of you, this certainly has been a significant step forward towards building a new middle school here in the city of Holyoke,” Garcia said. “This is going to be our first new school building in more than 35 years.”

The $85.5 million project was approved in June 2023 by the city and the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The school will serve approximately 550 students. The new school has been in part of a larger citywide effort to strengthen learning opportunities and reimagine the middle school experience.

“This project shows our city’s commitment to our youth and the hope we have for our collective future,” Garcia said.

Superintendent and Receiver Anthony Soto shared excitement for the groundbreaking as it is the culmination of nearly a decade of work.

“This project started in about 2013 and finally, it’s becoming a reality,” Soto said. “Today marks a big step forward towards offering a well-designed, well-lit, engaging learning environment for middle school students, about 550 of them.”

Soto called middle school a critical time in students’ growth and development and the new building would allow students more opportunities to discover passions, continue to grow and develop strong relationships.

“A building like this will provide the infrastructure for us to achieve one of our core beliefs that school is a joyful place of discovery, support and belonging,” Soto said.

Garcia credited the MSBA for sticking with the city in securing a new middle school building project even through a previous rejection by voters on a proposal to build two new middle school buildings.

“We’ve been a proud partner of the city for many years. I first started working with Holyoke in 2012 so its been awhile,” said MSBA Executive Director Mary Pichetti said. “The mayor said the MSBA did not give up on Holyoke, but that’s because Holyoke didn’t give up.”

School Committee Vice Chair Erin Brunelle said the first thing that comes to mind is the perseverance of the city for going back to the drawing board and coming up with a new solution for the district’s students.

“It’s so important that we provide the quality education for the 21st century and beyond,” Brunelle said. “Education is the foundation to a community and you cant have a rich and successful community without quality education so we’re all here to show that with perseverance and with dedication and the will, we will find a way.”

Of the total $85.5 million in cost for the project, the city will be reimbursed at least $46 million and were notified as of October 2023 that the city would be on the receiving end of additional reimbursement.

It is estimated the additional funding will be approximately $11.7 million, which would bring the MSBA’s total contribution to an estimated $57.6 million. This would reduce the city’s share of the total construction costs to roughly $27 million, or 32% of the total cost.

Fontaine Bros. is the general contractor for the new middle school building after being the lowest qualified bidder out of seven companies that were pre-qualified to submit bids. Since their founding in 1933, they have built numerous schools in the Pioneer Valley, including schools in Holyoke, Chicopee, Granby and Springfield.

Construction will now commence with plans to select a new name for the school building set for later this year with the process to be led by a subcommittee of the School Committee. The district expects the new school to be open in fall or winter of the 2025-2026 school year.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts