Pioneer holds first community forum on facilities planning

  • From left, Northfield Elementary School Principal Kristen Schreiber, Northfield residents Howard and Jinx Hastings, and Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Patricia Kinsella brainstorm ideas during a community forum Monday evening. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School District held its first community forum Monday evening, inviting residents to envision long-term planning for the district’s facilities. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2023 2:40:01 PM

NORTHFIELD — Embarking on a visioning process of what the Pioneer Valley Regional School District’s long-term future may look like, the district is inviting residents to examine how its buildings and grounds can adapt to a changing educational environment.

Monday evening marked the first of two community forums where residents of Bernardston, Leyden and Northfield came together with district administrators and employees to think about the district’s three school buildings and how they could be used more effectively.

“It’s about deeply thinking and reimagining what education may look like in our district,” Superintendent Patricia Kinsella said at the start of the forum, which was led by consultants from CannonDesign, a global architecture, engineering and consulting firm.

Throughout the coming months, the district and community will work with CannonDesign to determine what values they want to see reflected in their educational facilities and how facilities could be improved or reconfigured to better serve students.

During this process, CannonDesign will be studying the current facilities and the demographics of each school, while a District Planning Committee — made up of School Committee members, school administrators, town officials, staff, families and students — will develop a draft operational and capital plan that will come before the full School Committee in December.

CannonDesign Education Strategy Leader Paul Mills described schools as a “hallowed ground” for students and teachers. He said districts can tailor their facility plans to better fit the needs of students.

“Buildings do matter and they’re designed in a much different way today,” Mills said, noting that many new schools look like a “factory model” building and that Pioneer has a chance to embrace its vast amount of land. Mills and administrators say Pioneer has more land than any other district in Massachusetts.

A major portion of Monday’s discussion involved an activity where community members were asked to “invest” in different educational and facility categories, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); health and wellness; sustainability; and outdoor learning.

Topping the list — in line with one of the district’s major initiatives — was outdoor education. Pioneer has been exploring environmental education opportunities at the high school over the last year and launched a similar initiative at Bernardston Elementary School over the summer.

“I cannot think of a more beautiful place,” Mills said. “When you’re in some of the classrooms in this school, you wouldn’t even know it. You have such amazing resources around you.”

The benefit of outdoor education, he added, is that it is cost-effective when compared to the other categories.

“You can do it today, you just go outside,” he said with a laugh. “I’m being a little glib, but there is a lot of bang for your buck.”

Another suggestion came from former teacher and Northfield resident Sam Richardson, who said using the district’s facilities more as community spaces could bring people together and foster a connection to the school beyond one’s graduation.

“I wish Pioneer would be a community center for all the towns around … all ages, all kinds of people,” he said to a round of applause. “There’s more space because of declining enrollment — that’s one thing that we could do.”

All members of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District community are being asked to fill out a survey seeking input on long-term goals that will inform the development of draft ideas. The survey is open until Monday, Sept. 25, and can be accessed at

The District Planning Committee will review the results of the survey and CannonDesign’s facilities assessment at a Saturday, Oct. 14 meeting. A second community forum will be held Monday, Nov. 2, at 5:30 p.m.

More information about the facilities master plan process, as well as a calendar of events, can be found on Pioneer’s district website at

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.


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