Holyoke leaders and stakeholders of the new middle school building gather on site for a group photo.
Reminder Publishing photo by Trent Levakis

HOLYOKE — Community leaders and members gathered at the site of the former Peck Middle School on June 24 for an official “topping off” ceremony as the final, and highest, steel beam of the framed two-story new middle school building was placed.

Led by Mayor Joshua Garcia, local officials and residents gathered at the site of the new school building. A topping off ceremony is when the highest and final steel beam — signed by stakeholders — is attached to the building.

“I am thrilled to see the tremendous progress towards building a new middle school for our Holyoke students and community,” said Superintendent/Receiver Anthony Soto. “With the beams in place, we can now clearly see the size and scale of this building. This is the structure for what will become a best-in-class learning environment for our students, where they can discover their passions in art, music, science, literature and more.”

Garcia said the gathering indicates Holyoke is a community of shared values.

“The state-of-the-art school building being erected here is the result of years of cooperation and negotiation. This ambitious project would not have been possible without the outstanding support of the MSBA, the Holyoke City Council, the Holyoke School Committee, our state legislative delegation, our professional consultants, our students and families and the entire Holyoke community,” Garcia said. “It is truly a team effort where egos and agendas were set aside in the best interests of our children.”

The new middle school serves as an important component of the city’s efforts to strengthen learning opportunities and reimagine the middle school experience. The new building will replace the poorly designed, energy-inefficient Peck Middle School that no longer met the needs of a modern education.

The $85.5 million project was officially approved in June 2023 by the city of Holyoke and the MSBA. Of the total $85.5 million costs for demolishing Peck and building the new middle school, the city is responsible for paying approximately $27.1 million and the MSBA will reimburse approximately $58.4 million.

Currently estimated project costs are under budget.

“We are very appreciative of our consult team — Fontaine Bros and all their subcontractors, Mount Vernon Group and Answer Advisory — for delivering on our vision to build a state-of-the-art building on time and under budget,” said City Council President Tessa Murphy-Romboletti. “The steel just came on site earlier this month and it’s really unbelievable that we are here today, recognizing the placement of the last beam.”

Soto spoke with Reminder Publishing following the event and said it was continued progress for an exciting time for the School Department.

“Being in this role, its easy to hear all the noise and all the negativity and around this time of year you really get to reflect on the past year and all progress that you’re making, and this is just a symbol of that. The city’s been working on this project since 2013 and we’re finally able to make that a reality for our kids,” Soto said. “It just sends a message to our kids and families that as a community and as a city we care about you, we’re investing in you. And the city is putting their money where their mouth is.”

Soto added the new school building caps off the department’s rezoning efforts that originally started in response to the community not wanting to stay with the K-8 model.

He added once the middle school is ready for students it will be important to continue growth as a school department in utilizing its new resources for students.

“It’s hard but we can’t just build a new school and expect middle school to be good. We have to really work on what did we learn this year about the first big middle school, what were some of the challenges and how do we make them better. I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where it’s perfect but we got to be committed to making sure we’re reflecting on what we can do better and actually doing that,” Soto said.