Editor's note: This story was updated on Feb. 20, 2018, to correct that the fourth and fifth grades were moved to Hoosac Valley Middle and High School following the merger of C.T. Plunkett and Cheshire elementary schools. The sixth grade was already part of the existing middle school.
CHESHIRE — The hallways are dark and silent. Books line the library shelves with no children to read them. Photos of the 2016-17 staff remain posted in an encased bulletin board.
Closed, but not completely dormant, Cheshire Elementary School remains in limited use until the town finds ways to breathe new life into the once-vibrant grade school campus at 191 School St. The Select Board is currently soliciting requests for expressions of interest to gauge what type of organizations and businesses could occupy the 61,600-square-foot complex that dates back to circa 1923.
"You have the old school and two [additions] that can easily be separated into multiple uses," said Selectman Carol Francesconi, who also chairs the town's re-use committee that will begin reviewing the proposals at a March 6 meeting. The committee could issue a recommendation of possible use(s) to the Select Board likely a month later. The recommendations could also include relocating some municipal functions to the site.
The seven-person ad hoc panel formed last summer after Adams and Cheshire residents voted to close the school in June due to declining enrollment. The Adams-Cheshire Regional School District has since combined the elementary classes through Grade 5 with the former C.T. Plunkett Elementary School in Adams, renamed Hoosac Valley Elementary School. The fourth and fifth grades were moved to Hoosac Valley Middle and High School in Cheshire.
The district administration remains the only tenant at the Cheshire school, with a year-to-year lease occupying office space in the left wing. The School Committee still meets in what was once the computer room; the committee member nameplates and chairman's gavel left in place until the next gathering. Municipal officials continue to hold special and annual town meetings in the handicap-accessible portion of the building.
Add the fact of ball fields to the rear and a playground to the right of the school, the town is likely to rent — not sell — space to one or more entities, according to Francesconi.
"All our sports are held at the school, our town meetings. It's the center of town activities," she said.
"It's woven into the fabric of the town. It's still a gem, still in good shape," added Selectman Ed St. John IV, who doubles as the municipal buildings and grounds superintendent.
St. John emphasized the school's importance to Cheshire last week as he escorted an Eagle photographer and reporter through the building. The Cheshire school alum showcased the original school and the two wings: one opened in 1955, the other in 1961.
He also noted the sensors and regulators installed to help the town monitor the heating system set between 60-65 degrees to keep the building a viable community asset.
"I would hate to see any annual function falter because we can't use the building," St. John said.
During last year's annual town meeting, residents agreed to set aside $100,000 for maintenance and upkeep — with the help of school district custodian Dave Richards.
"He knows every nook and cranny," St. John noted.
District administrators are glad to maintain a presence, aiding the town's effort to re-use the building from end-to-end.
"It's vitally important we be here," said Superintendent Robert Putnam. "We're the daily reminder that this building is in use and we keep in constant communication with the town."
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (413) 496-6233.