Phillipston: Options for closed school building aired

  • Selectboard member Thom Daoust, right, discusses results of a survey of Phillipston residents conducted to determine public sentiment regarding the future of Phillipston Memorial Elementary School building, which has been vacant since the end of the 2019-2020 school years. Board Vice Chair Gerhard Fandreyer, left, looks on. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Phillipston's Selectboard discusses a survey regarding the future of Phillipston Memorial Elementary School completed by residents. (left to right) Chair Bernie Malouin, vice Chair Gerhard Fandreyer, clerk Thom Daoust. Staff photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/22/2021 1:39:59 PM
Modified: 7/22/2021 1:40:05 PM

PHILLIPSTON — Since use of Phillipston Memorial Elementary School (PMES) was discontinued by the Narragansett Regional School District, Phillipston officials and concerned residents have been trying to figure out what to do with the now-vacant building. The district officially handed over responsibility for the school to the town in February.

At its meeting on Wednesday, July 14, the Selectboard discussed results of a survey undertaken during the recently completed school year by the Education Options Committee (EOC) to learn what residents would like to see done with the school.

Selectboard member Thom Daoust, who also serves on the EOC, presented the results.

Of those who completed the survey, 56 percent were parents of school-age children, while 44 percent were other residents of the town. Of the parents who responded, approximately 52 percent said their children attend Templeton Elementary School, where all NRSD students in grades kindergarten through five attend class. Nearly half — 47.6 percent — are either home schooled, School Choice out to another district, or participate in remote learning provided by the school district. Fully 80 percent of parents said they would send their children to PMES if the opportunity arose. Just over six percent said they would not, while about 13 percent were undecided,

Talk then turned to potential options for the school’s future, which came during EOC discussions.

“I will say,” said board Vice Chair Gerhard Fandreyer, “that there are several different things that we can do. But I would recommend that we do a lease agreement, or something like that, and do it as a third-party thing rather than us running a school by ourselves, which we can’t because of Narragansett. By us leasing it out to a third party, they can do whatever they want because they don’t work for the town.”

“There actually was a recommendation, which I thought was pretty smart,” Daoust said. “Petersham and Warwick are very interested in partnering up with us, and there was talk about actually leasing part of the building to Petersham, then they would educate our kids. So, we would get around some of those issues that we had been having.

“Right now, if you send a kid to Templeton, they’re likely to be in a class of 28 to 30 (students). And I believe it would be 12 to 15 here. And it’s a very different environment.”

“Personally,” interjected Finance Committee member Tom Specht, “I don’t think there’d be any problem with whatever agreement (with Narragansett) is left, or how old it is, because all those kids that would be going here from Phllipston could just fill out the form and School Choice in with Petersham.

“It’s done now all the time. People are School Choicing out of Narragansett left and right. So, we wouldn’t have any issues ourselves.”

“So, did Petersham think they’re actually interested in leasing part of the building?” Selectboard Chair Bernie Malouin inquired.

“They’re interested in partnering up with us,” said Doust. “We had one meeting with these folks over Zoom, and they were very interested in working with us and helping us get our kids educated back here in town. And Warwick was very interested in that prospect as well.”

Malouin then asked for more details on what an arrangement with either town would look like.

“The concept would be,” said Daoust, “we’re going to educate our kids here, and they’re going to educate their kids there. We would share resources, maybe share special ed, we would share a principal, perhaps, and obviously a superintendent. And there would be other things that we would share.

“In other words, we’re going to educate the kids here, but we’re working together and sharing costs.”

“That sounds like it needs more investigation,” said Malouin.

Specht also noted that a private early childhood education provider had expressed interest in leasing part of the school.

Daoust also outlined several other recommendations the EOC had developed. These included: continuation of the EOC, along with the addition of new members; explore use of the school for early childhood education; explore extended day — before and after school — programs for school-age children; withdrawing Phillipston’s K-5 students from the NRSD; and, exploring a possible partnership with either Petersham, Royalston, or Warwick — or a combination thereof.

At their Annual Town Meeting June 20, voters in Petersham voted to form a committee to examine the feasibility and advisability of withdrawing the town from a consolidation agreement with Orange Elementary School. The pact was agreed to eight years ago.

Phillipston’s Selectboard decided more information and deliberation was needed before it could vote to recommend any of the proposals endorsed by the EOC.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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