Adams Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco, left, and Cheshire Selectman Robert Ciskowski, right, flank ACRSD Superintendent Robert Putnam. Both Mazzucco and Ciskowski have been vocal during the elementary school closure debate.

Adams Cheshire Regional School District Superintendent Robert Putnam led a collection of Adams and Cheshire officials on a tour of the district’s three school buildings, highlighting the conditions of each and discussing repercussions of grade reconfigurations.

Tours of all three schools come after the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management made recommendations, on Feb. 8, to save the district money and lasso its problems en masse. The Collins Center made eight “space use alternatives,” a few of which suggested closing either C.T. Plunkett Elementary School – in Adams – or closing Cheshire Elementary School and consolidating the left over grades.

Putnam’s tour began at CES, with members of each town’s Board of Selectmen and finance committee present. Members of the ACRSD School Committee attended, as well.

The idea of closing CES has not been taken easily by the Cheshire selectmen. “What a blow that would be to Cheshire,” Cheshire Selectman Robert Ciskowski said Feb. 14. “I would be devastated.”

Putnam, alongside Principal Peter Bachli, led the group through the “original” section of the building, which is currently lacking handicap accessibility because of a broken stair lift. The lift would cost $65,000 to replace, according to Putnam, and allows access to two floors. “I’ve been waiting to act on this,” he said.

The average classroom size in the original section, Putnam said, was approximately 700 square feet. The lower level of the original building houses the art room and, with grade reconfiguration, Putnam said, would be a good spot for a music program.

A flight of stairs below the art floor sits the gym – there is no handicap access to the gym, Putnam said. Next year, though, two CES students require handicap accessibility, as they use a wheelchair. If the ACRSD follows reconfiguration recommendations presented by the Collins Center, handicap accessible gym classes would either be held in the cafeteria or art basement.

Back on the ground floor, Putnam discussed the auditorium. Certain reconfigurations, he said, would force the school’s library to be moved to the auditorium stage.

The cafeteria at CES “easily handles all lunches,” Putnam said. Currently, there are 243 students at the elementary school. At its peak, in 1994, Putnam said, the cafeteria handled 377 students.

In the section of CES built in 1961, the average classroom size is 900 square feet. The roof in the “new” section was redone in the 90’s, according to Putnam, and is in much better condition than the other wing’s “troublesome” two roofs – leaks can be seen throughout certain sections of the building.

The tour then moved to CTPES, which was renovated in 1992 and 1994. The principal joined Putnam in leading the group.

Adams Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco and Adams Board of Selectmen Chairman Jeffrey Snoonian recently – and publicly –defended keeping the school open, explaining that closing CTPES would be detrimental to the town. Their statements came approximately a week before the Collins Center made their final report.

The tour of CTPES explored all three floors of classrooms. The average classroom is anywhere from 900 to 1,000 square feet, according to Principal Michelle Colvin. All the kindergarten classrooms, Colvin said, are “essentially the same size,” as well.

To access all the floors, CTPES utilizes a centralized elevator. Putnam quipped: “Unlike our lifts, this one works well.”

Asbestos was discussed during the tour, and the superintendent said that CTPES was free of asbestos. Asbestos – a well-documented carcinogen – can be found in CES, but Putnam assured the town officials a proactive asbestos plan is, and has been, in place.

In terms of a library, neither CTPES nor CES has a purpose to build one.

Lunch at CTPES begins at 10:30 a.m., Colvin said, with fifth graders eating first. There are six total lunches over the course of a school day. According to Colvin, there are 80 to 100 students per lunch.

The school’s gym was described by the principal as “a beautiful space, an adequate space.” It does have roof troubles, though. Putnam described a recent picture of “10 to 15 buckets” on the floor  collecting water, to the tour group.

The auditorium at CTPES – where the Collins Center presented their findings – seats 600, which is more than Hoosac Valley Middle and High School, and has seats original to the building.

The third floor, Colvin said, leading the tour upstairs, is prone to getting very hot – upwards of 86 degrees “on a sunny day.”
“I’m not talking a little hot,” she said. “A lot hot.”

The tour of CTPES concluded in the boiler room. Wooden supports are propped underneath a rotting ceiling – described as a “preventive” measure by Putnam.

“We often have water on the floor here,” he said.

The group then convened at Hoosac Valley Middle and High School. No Adams selectmen were present for the high school building tour. Cheshire Selectwoman Carol Francesconi did not attend the tour of CTPES or HVMHS.

Principal Jeremiah Ames welcomed the group at the door, and immediately pushed the tour through the right hand side of the building, highlighting what were essentially only positives.

“There is plenty of room,” Ames said. “It’s not crammed full at all.”

Ames explained that the school currently has an abundance of space, with some rooms not being used to their full advantage.
“The rooms we’d call ‘small’ are not what we’d call classrooms,” he said.

Alternatives that were recommended by the Collins Center include moving grades into the HVMHS building – “using space efficiently” and using “best space first,” according to the center’s PowerPoint.

Leaks in the building were minimal, Ames said, as he stood under one that was actually used to collect water for a nearby potted plant.

Concerns over keeping younger students separate from older high school, and even middle school, students have been heard. Ames said that while no new physical barriers exist, “schedules and fire doors” could keep everyone separate. This includes the three tiered bus schedule, which would stagger arrival times.

The hypothesized pre-kindergarten section of HVMHS – if recommendations are followed through on – is completely separate from the rest of the school. It is adjacent to a quiet entrance and parking lot and was originally designed as an early childhood development area.

Although the reconfigurations made by Putnam were just hypothesized and, in general, are a work in progress, it reinforced reports that a school building may have to close.

All reconfigurations of the school district or grades would not effect Title I designation, though. Title I is based on demographics of a district, which would go unchanged.

Tours of the building, for families, students and community members in general, were held Feb. 14 to Feb. 16.