SOUTH HADLEY — South Hadley schools are working on honoring Principal Hank Skala who passed away two years ago by renaming Plains Elementary School after him.

The School Committee discussed an update to the pl ans during its Jan. 18 meeting.

Skala was principal of Plains Elementary School from 2016 until he passed in April 2022 at 69 years old.

He left a lasting impact and the original idea to rename the school was discussed almost two years ago.

Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Business Operations Jennifer Voyik explained the cause for delaying the name change.

“There was a little hold up in potentially moving forward or continuing the discussion because we were in this kind of in between time waiting for what was going to happen with the [Massachusetts School Building Authority]. So after October and after we submitted our potential grade reconfiguration options, it felt like we had to wait if we could move forward or not,” Voyik said.

It was announced in December 2023 that Massachusetts School Building Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved Mosier Elementary into its eligibility period which will assist the MSBA in identifying whether a district is ready to manage and fund a capital project.

With South Hadley schools potentially moving forward with grade configuration changes if the project continues forward, Voyik said they didn’t want to potentially change the names twice.

The proposals for the South Hadley Public Schools rebuilding of Mosier includes a grade reconfiguration proposal, which would potentially move the 1st grade out of Plains and into the new Mosier School.

The School Department decided to wait until hearing about MSBA’s decisions on acceptance into the most recent round of candidates, which didn’t occur until December 2023.

“We didn’t want to potentially rename the school twice. If the school was renamed prior to learning about the MSBA, it could potentially be that Henry J. Skala Elementary School, which is probably what you see in your mockups of the pictures. If the reconfiguration plans go forward, it would be the Henry J. Skala Early Learning Center or Early Learning School,” Voyik added.

The potential reconfiguration plans can be found at www.tinyurl.com/3masu3bs.

The official name of the school has not been decided at this time.

“Whether the building will be called an Early Learning School or an Elementary School, it is just amazing that it will have Henry J. Skala stamped on it,” School Committee member Danielle Cooke said.

When the committee first looked at a quote to change the name a year ago, it was estimated to cost between $13,000 to $15,000.

South Hadley and the South Hadley Public Schools employed a Director of Building Operations Scott Moore, who School Committee members mentioned have been instrumental on many facilities projects already, including securing a much-improved quote on the cost for the new signage, too

The new updated quote is approximately $7,200.

This would cover the cost of two updated signs, the sign by the road and the sign by the front door of the building, along with paying for an electrician to remove the current signs which are illuminated.

“What we would do instead is include some up lights so that way the new letters once installed would still be lit at night,” Voyik said.

After the School Committee approved the proposal and new quote, PTA President Megan Bartlett started a GoFundMe to help purchase the new signs.
The fundraising page was created on Jan. 19 and at the time of publication has received 65 donations and raised approximately $4,400.

School Committee Chair Eric Friesner added, “The PTA reached out and asked for the invoice saying that there was interest from families at the school and teachers at the school about potentially funding that. A piece that held us about a year, year and a half ago was how to pay for it. Thanks to the PTA for reaching out and offering to fundraise.”

With schools and town everywhere being in tough budget cycles, the School Committee agreed that the reason for the renaming delay also had to do with proposing an additional line item while fighting to save jobs.

The fundraiser will be a big help, according to Cooke.

“I know we have gone back and forth over the last year with multiple companies, and I am glad to see the work getting that down. Thankful for the people who stayed on top of this and keeping it on the conversation,” Cooke said.

She added,” I am just so relieved that as we approach the two-year anniversary of Hank’s passing that we can actually conceive that the building could finally have his name on it for the upcoming 24-25 school year. Hank was always a huge partner with the Plains PTA, and they have been so incredible with being involved for this project to honor him. It is amazing that the crowd funding has only been live for less than 2 weeks and the crowdfunding has already covered the cost of the sign materials.”