Greenfield Center School begins new construction

  • Foundations are being poured for the new Greenfield Center School just off Bernardston Road in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Foundations are being poured for the new Greenfield Center School just off Bernardston Road in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The approach to the new Greenfield Center School site just off Bernardston Road in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • A rendering, by Banwell Architects, of the new Greenfield Center School being constructed off of Bernardston Road in Greenfield. Contributed image

Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2020 4:40:35 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Center School has begun construction on its new $10 million school building.

Head of School Isabel “Charlie” Spencer said the school will sell its building at 71 Montague City Road, which it bought and moved into in the late 1980s, to move to the 30-acre property that was once the home to a veterinary practice at 741 Bernardston Road. She said Greenfield Center School has “outgrown” its current building.

The new building will be 23,678 square feet and will sit back from the road, Spencer said. The current building, by comparison, is about 15,000 square feet with an addition the school built years ago.

“Space is tight right now,” Spencer explained. “I don’t anticipate enrolling a lot more students, though — maybe enough to fill one or two homerooms. We just want to give our students more space. We’ve got the potential with the new property to add on someday, if we want. That would be done incrementally.”

The current building is in need of repair, and to make it safe, updated and relevant for students would be “extremely expensive,” she added.

There are about 137 students, with a teacher-student ratio of 1:7, she said.

“All of them, students, teacher, staff, have been involved with these plans,” Spencer said. “We’ve had meetings. The students have helped architects with plans. We’ve really kept our families and students in the loop. They’re all really excited.”

The Greenfield Center School was one of the first schools in the Pioneer Valley to close during the pandemic.

“We closed on March 12, and we have a reopening plan right now,” Spencer said.

She said she’s aware of what might be considered “bizarre timing” in terms of the construction and spending millions of dollars during a pandemic. The school has raised most of the money — $7 million — through development and donor pledges. While the state has approved a $7.9 million tax-exempt bond, Spencer said the school is hoping to use most of the money it has raised, and raise more, so that it doesn’t have a large loan to pay off.

“We’ve had this planned for a long time, started talking about and exploring ideas at least five years ago,” she said. “We put out ads for a site more than two years ago and bought the property in 2019. We believe we can move forward with our plans. It’s an enormous undertaking, but we’re more than ready.”

Spencer said students will use the 30-acre property daily.

“We’re committed to outdoor learning,” she said. “We’ve used the trails of Highland Park and behind the school for years. It’ll be nice to have our own.”

Students will return to Montague City Road this year, if reopening plans allow for onsite learning, she said. Barring any major problems or unexpected setbacks, construction will be completed in the spring and “finishing touches” will happen early in the summer. Spencer said the school might even offer summer programming, but students will definitely use the new building in August 2021.

The school is leading with optimism, she said, even through a pandemic, because it has a long-term view.

“This (school building) will need to last for the next 50 to 100 years,” she said. “It’s not awesome timing, but we hope we’ll get through. This is a true labor of love.

“Don’t get me wrong, this is bittersweet for many of us who have been on Montague City Road for years,” she added. “Typically in a year, we have at least one to three teachers who went here come back to teach here. We also have former students whose children are now attending.”

The Greenfield Center School, which educates students in preschool through eighth grade, opened in 1981 near Foster’s Supermarket. It moved to Montague City Road later that decade.

Spencer said the reason the progressive, independent day school can do what it is doing is because of a lot of community support, including from Greenfield Savings Bank, the school’s founders, donors and alumni.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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