State puts Holyoke school building project funding grant on hold

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP)– The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has asked the city of Holyoke to resubmit a statement of interest for a school building project once the city has found a way to fund their share.

This comes after Holyoke voters shot down a ballot question in November which would have raised property taxes in order to build two new middle schools. The state had agreed to provide a grant of $75.8-million for the project.  Holyoke residents were asked to approve a Proposition 2 1/2 override to fund the remaining $54 million.

Mayor Alex Morse, Superintendent Stephen Zrike, Representative Aaron Vega, School Building Committee Chairperson Devin Sheehan, and School Building Committee Member and City Councilor Mike Sullivan met with the MSBA on Tuesday to discuss a plan for helping the city move forward.

Below is a joint statement issued by Mayor Morse and Dr. Zrike in regard to the meeting:

On Tuesday, November 19, 2019, the Holyoke contingent of Mayor Alex Morse, Receiver/ Superintendent Stephen Zrike, Representative Aaron Vega, School Building Committee Chairperson Devin Sheehan, and School Building Committee Member and City Councilor Mike Sullivan met with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to discuss next steps following the unsuccessful November 5th vote for a debt exclusion to fund the City of Holyoke’s share of the proposed two new middle school buildings.  We strongly advocated that the MSBA allow Holyoke to explore other options for the middle school buildings project, which would significantly contribute to an improved middle school experience for our students.  

As a result of the failed vote and no current alternative way to fund the City’s share of the proposed two new middle school buildings, the MSBA grant of $75.8 million is not available to Holyoke at this time.  Instead, we have been directed to resubmit a statement of interest during the January through April submittal period for a new project. The statement of interest would then go through the review process by the MSBA and hopefully lead to an invitation to join the eligibility period, at which time the City would be able to re-develop a school building committee and proposal for funding.

The MSBA recognizes that significant work and thoughtful planning have gone into our middle school project so far and they may be able to expedite the process for us in some way.  The MSBA affirmed their support of our educational vision and the plan to design distinct elementary and middle school offerings for Holyoke students. They are committed to partnering with our City to develop a plan that works within the City’s financial constraints. The MSBA will clarify next steps in the coming weeks, and we will continue to keep citizens and stakeholders informed as we learn more.  Questions and suggestions can be directed to msredesign@hps.holyoke.ma.us.  

The Holyoke School Department and Mayor Morse are steadfastly committed to the belief that neither zip code or neighborhood should determine a child’s access to quality education and learning environment.  We will continue to exhaust all opportunities to provide our students with the experiences they need and deserve through local action and continued advocacy at the state level.  We are grateful for the partnership and significant investment that our families, staff, and community have made in our schools, and we continue to invite everyone to partner with us to ensure a successful pathway for every student.

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