Guest columnists Courtney Meyer, Carolyn Holstein, Emma Dragon and Dan Regish: Let’s save Russell School 

By COURTNEY MEYER, CAROLYN HOLSTEIN, EMMA DRAGON and DAN REGISH

Published: 07-31-2023 4:41 PM

The future of Hadley’s iconic Russell School building is at stake. Will the town invest in this historic building? Residents resoundingly push for yes.

This one-of-a-kind 1894 Italianate structure functioned as Hopkins Academy from 1894-1909 and then middle and elementary students until 1996. It plays an important role in honoring the values stated in the town’s 2017 master plan: “Enhance the Town Center as a Livable, Walkable Community Center,” and “Preserve Historic and Architecturally Significant Structures and Landscapes.” Russell School was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, as part of the Hadley Historic District.

In 1893, the townspeople voted unanimously to erect the building. At its dedication ceremony, resident George Smith called Russell School “one of the most perfect buildings of its kind in the Connecticut Valley … not a murmur is heard from one citizen against paying the $17,177.09 which it cost.”

The building has undergone three feasibility studies — the first was in 1995. The Old Mohawk Group’s study in 2013 stated that “the workmanship and materials of Russell School are of the highest quality. They have weathered well over the previous 120 years.” Their biggest concern was water infiltration, and estimated $6 million to rehabilitate the structure. In the 2019 study, Drummey Rosane Anderson (DRA, Inc.) estimated total rehabilitation to be $16-$22 million. Attempts to make repairs in 2015 and 2019 never moved forward. Town-approved Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds were never used to repair the roof, as promised.

The Select Board appointed a Russell School Committee (RSC) in July 2022 “to explore opportunities for the School and identify funding sources.” The RSC created and distributed a community survey that fall, receiving a strong rate of return with 562 responses — 432 being Hadley residents — accounting for 10% of Hadley residents ages 18 and over. Sixty-eight percent of Hadley respondents believe that it is important to preserve Russell School (44% very important, 24% somewhat important). Most popular among residents is to stabilize the building (42% strongly support, 21% somewhat support). The second most popular option is to rehabilitate and retain the structure for town use (36% strongly support, 26% somewhat support). Demolishing and selling the land is least popular among Hadley respondents (84% do not support), and demolishing and retaining the land is also unpopular (57% do not support).

Following the survey results, the RSC recommended to the Select Board that the structure be stabilized as soon as possible, to prevent further deterioration. The Committee researched funding opportunities to decrease the overall costs by several million dollars and, with the Select Board’s blessing, proceeded with a CPA application for stabilization in the amount of $1.2 million. The application was accepted and added to the annual Town Meeting warrant in May 2023.

However, two weeks prior to this full town vote, the Select Board requested that the stabilization article be removed. In its place was an article to spend $40,000 for a fourth feasibility study. This was approved 140-10 at Town Meeting after many spoke in favor of saving the building. We are hopeful that the town will listen to citizens’ concerns and move swiftly with the completion of the feasibility study. To date, a bid request for this work has not been posted. This neglected project needs to be taken off the town’s “backburner” for good, before another historic building deteriorates beyond repair.

Russell School’s ideal location makes it perfect for town departments such as Park and Recreation and Hopkins’ potential Career Technical Education expansion. This structure is a reminder of the pride our predecessors had for the building and Hadley’s children’s education, and provides assurance of the town center’s continued preservation. The Select Board voted to disband the RSC in July, but Hadley residents will continue to advocate for Russell School and our community.

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Learn more about the RSC’s work during its time as an active committee at www.russellschoolhadley.com.

The Russell School Committee: Courtney Meyer, chair; Carolyn Holstein, clerk; Emma Dragon; and Dan Regish.

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