Traffic concerns, new school questions on Westfield Ward 3 residents’ minds

WESTFIELD — The state of Ward 3 was the topic of a meeting March 30 hosted by Ward 3 City Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane.

About 30 residents filled the Westfield Athenaeum’s Lang Auditorium to hear updates on construction, policing and more. Matthews-Kane spoke and fielded questions from the audience, along with Westfield Police Lt. Eric Hall and Officer John Blascak, Ward 3 Municipal Light Board Commissioner Dawn Renaudette and City Engineer Allison McMordie.

Several residents highlighted traffic and road work on Western Avenue as a main concern. Two residents mentioned sidewalks and crosswalks, truck traffic and speed near Highland Elementary School. Because of work on Cowles Bridge, truck traffic reroutes to Granville Road and one mom stated she counted 40 trucks and cars passed — many speeding, by her estimate — while she was walking her children to school.

Residents said communication to families of Highland Elementary School students has been poor, particularly with a change in drop-off and pick-up procedures to start April 3 that was not communicated until late in the day on March 30.

“They essentially gave us two days’ notice,” said one mom.

McMordie listened to their concerns and asked to discuss the situation in more depth with the residents after the meeting. She said she would connect with the state Department of Transportation for temporary signs and other ways to alleviate the effect on the neighborhood during Western Avenue construction. McMordie said the work taking place from Lloyd’s Hill to Highland Elementary School was slated for completion in early May.

“It has to be finished by the road race,” she said, referring to the Westfield Flat Fast 5K taking place May 6.

McMordie said the entire Western Avenue project should be largely completed in October, with a few stray finishing touches next spring. She said two new traffic lights by Baystate Noble Hospital, new sidewalks by Pine Hill Cemetery, resurfacing of Mill Street and new lights at the top and bottom of Lloyd’s Hill — along with a 10-foot multi-use sidewalk — are part of the scope of work.

McMordie said the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail construction is making progress and part of the long-delayed downtown section, from Stop & Shop north, will “have walkability” by Mother’s Day.

“From the Esplanade down should be started next spring and take about a year,” McMordie said, which includes connecting the neighborhood around Orange Street. She said long-term plans also include connecting the western portion of the trail to the community at Lloyd’s Hill.

Matthews-Kane, who is a member of the School Building Committee that is working on the new elementary school on Franklin Street, said Fontaine Bros. was awarded the construction bid officially this week and should start moving dirt this month.

Residents asked about the timeline for students to move into the new school, which will replace both Abner Gibbs Elementary School and Franklin Avenue Elementary School, and what will happen to Abner Gibbs.

“We don’t know yet,” Matthews-Kane said about the 100-plus-year-old school building. “In the past we have had former schools bought and used for housing, but there are no plans yet.”

Matthews-Kane said the new school will be built next to the existing Franklin Avenue Elementary School but far enough away so that students can remain in the current school during construction. The new school is expected to be ready in December 2024, with students transitioning into the building during the winter break.

Once students are in the new building, Matthews-Kane said it will take about six months to demolish the current Franklin Avenue building and create fields there.

Hall and Blascak spoke about policing in the ward and their personal pet peeves. For Hall, it’s graffiti and for Blascak, it’s upkeep of property. One resident of Western Avenue said there is an unkempt property next door that she believes is abandoned. Blascak said he would investigate to find the owner and address the issues.

Renaudette fielded a few questions regarding Whip City Fiber. One resident said he has asked for fiber in his building on Elm Street many times, and Renaudette said in that instance, it’s not a Whip City Fiber issue.

“The biggest problem we have getting fiber into apartment buildings is the older construction of the buildings,” she said. “We can get the fiber up to the building.”

There are just a few areas in Ward 3 that remain unable to access the high-speed internet service offered by Westfield Gas & Electric, said Renaudette. She said that’s a far different picture from when she and Matthews-Kane were first elected.

“When I first took office there were big chunks of the ward that didn’t have fiber,” she said. “This is a big change.”

Matthews-Kane encouraged all residents to contact her with any concerns and thanked everyone for attending.

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