AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) announced a substantial increase in the town’s grant for the Amherst Elementary School at Fort River.

This development follows a pivotal decision by the MSBA Board of Directors, prompted by action from the State Legislature and the approval of Governor Healey.

The MSBA’s Board, led by State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, voted to raise the construction cap and site caps from $432 to $568 per square foot, marking a remarkable 31% increase. The initial estimates from Anser Advisory, the Town’s Owner’s Project Manager, suggest that this adjustment will result in an additional $9.7 million being allocated to the project, consequently reducing the financial burden on the town. The precise adjusted grant amount will be determined once a new funding agreement is formalized between the Town and the MSBA.

This development represents a significant relief for the town’s taxpayers who have demonstrated unwavering support for the construction of the new Elementary School, with 81% of voters in favor of a debt exclusion override to enable this endeavor.

Town Council President Lynn Griesemer emphasized the positive impact of the MSBA’s decision on local taxpayers, stating, “The MSBA’s decision is a vote in favor of our taxpayers, reducing the financial commitment required from property owners for our new Elementary School. The strong community support for this project has been a long-standing priority for many Town Councilors, and we owe heartfelt gratitude to Senator Jo Comerford and Representative Mindy Domb for their relentless advocacy in securing these additional funds.”

Earlier this year, the Town Council voted 12-1 to authorize borrowing for the new school and allocated $5 million from reserves to minimize the financial impact on taxpayers. Subsequently, the town’s voters passed a debt exclusion override with an overwhelming 81% in favor, ensuring the project’s continued progress. The MSBA’s increased share of the project will help alleviate the financial burden on the town’s residents.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman praised the efforts of Councilors and State legislators in securing this additional funding, emphasizing the commitment to careful cost management and continued efforts to obtain more funds to minimize the impact on taxpayers.

State Senator Jo Comerford expressed her satisfaction with the outcome, emphasizing the importance of advocating for additional funding for the Massachusetts School Building Authority to address increased construction costs, benefiting communities like Amherst.

State Representative Mindy Domb echoed her commitment to securing more state funding for the new elementary school, underscoring the importance of the town’s community engagement and participation in shaping the project’s exciting new building design.

Cathy Schoen, Chair of the Building Committee, expressed her excitement about the news, attributing the achievement to the relentless efforts of Senator Jo Comerford and Representative Mindy Domb in securing increased MSBA funds for Amherst and other communities.

The Elementary School Building Committee recently made engineering and design adjustments to maintain the project’s estimated construction cost of $81.29 million, which is $44,860 below the $81.34 million stipulated in the funding agreement with the MSBA. The project remains on track, with the next meeting scheduled for November 3rd. Actual project costs will be determined in the spring, following the completion of all bidding processes.

With construction costs on the rise, Town staff and consultants are closely monitoring prices for similar projects. The updated construction cost estimate for 2024 incorporates significant allowances for cost increases and aligns with the town’s goal of achieving net-zero energy efficiency through on-site solar power.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority collaborates with communities in the design and construction of educationally suitable, flexible, sustainable, and cost-effective public school facilities.

A debt exclusion represents a temporary increase in property taxes to finance specific debts or capital expenses, such as building construction projects. It is not a permanent measure, and once the project has been funded, the temporary tax increase will be discontinued, leading to reduced taxes.

Local News

WWLP-22News, an NBC affiliate, began broadcasting in 1953 by providing local news, network, syndicated, and local programming to western Massachusetts. Follow 22News on X @WWLP22News, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.