Heath, Mohawk reach agreement on school closure

  • The Heath Elementary School opened in 1995, at a time when Heath had around 90 students. Recorder File Photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 3/31/2017 9:52:55 PM

BUCKLAND — Agreement has been reached on conditions for closing the 22-year-old Heath Elementary School and tuitioning its students to the Hawlemont Regional School in Charlemont.

The Heath Education Task Force and Mohawk’s Heath Ad Hoc Committee settled on conditions Thursday, according to Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee Chairwoman Martha Thurber.

Pending a full Mohawk School Committee vote on Wednesday and ratification by Mohawk’s member towns at annual town meetings, the town-owned Heath Elementary School, which has been leased to the Mohawk district through June 2026, would be returned to the town, with Mohawk to pay a total of $240,000 to “mothball” the building over three years, while Heath finds an alternative use or buyer for the building.

According to Thurber, the regional district amendment that town meeting voters will act on is in the hands of attorneys for both Heath and the Mohawk district.

Thurber said the amendment allows for the closing of the Heath School and permits the students to be educated at a separate school district, Hawlemont, even though Heath remains a K-through-12 member of Mohawk, at least for now. She said the tuition agreement is intended as a bridge to Heath’s potentially joining the Hawlemont Regional School District for Grades K-6 later.

The initial term for the Hawlemont tuition agreement will be for three years, from 2017 to 2020. But if negotiations bog down, for Heath to join Hawlemont, or for Heath to change to a Grade 7-12 membership with Mohawk, the Hawlemont tuition agreement could be extended to 2023.

Under the proposed agreement, Mohawk’s lease for the Heath School would end July 1 this year. In exchange for the lease termination, Mohawk is to pay three annual installments of $80,000 to “mothball” the building. This includes the cost of minimal heating and utilities, and maintaining building insurance, while the town either finds another use or buyer.

Closing the school was recommended as “Phase 1” by the Mohawk BEST Committee. BEST stood for “Building Education, Sustainability and Trust,” and the group made several recommendations for keeping education “affordable” to small towns facing declining enrollments and rising costs.

The Heath-Mohawk agreement is to be voted on by the full Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee this Wednesday. That meeting will be held at the Sanderson Academy on Route 112 in Ashfield.

The Heath Elementary School opened in 1995, at a time when Heath had around 90 students. This year, 31 students are enrolled in the Heath Elementary School. The school costs about $1.1 million to operate. Alarmed by declining enrollment, the Heath Educational Initiative Task Force was formed last January and has been meeting almost weekly, looking at alternatives they felt would give them the best education quality for their children and a “voice” in that education. The Task Force looked at sending their students to Hawelemont and Rowe — two elementary schools outside of the 250-square-mile Mohawk district — to prevent students from having one-hour long school bus rides.

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