CHICOPEE — The Chicopee School Department moved its offices to a leased property at 134 Dulong Circle in August 2021 after deeming the Helen O’Connell administration offices at 180 Broadway aged and unsafe. A year into their five-year lease, the school department is considering purchasing a permanent administration house at the former MassMutual Learning and Conference Center on Memorial Drive.
Helen O’Connell’s administrative offices were classified as surplus property by the school department in March, with ownership of the property transferring to the city as officials assess whether to sell or reallocate the space.
The school committee discussed the potential purchase at its June 15 meeting. Acting Superintendent Alvin Morton explained that the school department is continuing conversations with the city as it seeks permanent administrative space.
“One of the things when we had [the property] on Dulong Circle, we were ordered to find a permanent location,” Morton said. After submitting the former MassMutual space as a potential selection, Morton shared that Mayor John Vieau and his legal team have begun reviewing the legality of a potential purchase.
Currently, the school department pays $280,200 per year to lease the Dulong Circle property. Morton said the school’s administrative staff began looking for a long-term base of operations soon after moving into the rented space.
“At the end of the five-year lease, we don’t know where we’re going to go… One of the first things when we got Dulong, the next question is what’s next for a permanent location. We looked, and one of those places is the MassMutual building at this point and at this time,” Morton said.
Ward 4 school committee member Sandra Peret said the MassMutual space “looks great” for school administration purposes. Morton explained that the current proposal would split the building between administration offices and community services.
“MassMutual is about 75,000 square feet… There’s one side that would be the school side, and we were also looking at the community on the other side by bringing in outside agencies that would have wraparound services within of the community,” Morton said.
Some of the community-centered ideas proposed by Morton were the involvement of organizations such as the River Valley Counseling Center, the Department of Children and Families, and local adult special education programs. He also revealed that the full-size kitchen inside the space could be used for seniors’ lunches.
By comparison, the 21,000 square foot Dulong location presents some spacing constraints for the school administration. Morton said the move could be “in a year or a year and a half” because the school administration has the funds for an acquisition. The majority of the spending would come from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds distributed to the district in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
If the purchase and move occurs before the end of the Dulong lease, the school department would use the building for additional vocational technical education space and a new home for the ChicopeeTV public access station.
The Acting Superintendent also said the Helen O’Connell building has completed its extensive cleaning process.
“We cleaned the building, so [we’re] now see what can be done,” Morton said. The next priority for the inactive building is improving the ventilation system, which was previously thought to be one of the main reasons the space became uninhabitable.