That goal has taken another step toward reality. As we reported last week, there have been some meetings and planning has begun on what the old school might look like, and more important, what it might be used for in years to come. Once the school moves into its renovated new building in Whitingham there will be a large, unoccupied building in the center of Wilmington, and in the center of the valley.
We steadfastly believe the building is not only critical to the revitalization of Wilmington, but will play a big role in a broader Deerfield Valley renaissance. There are many reasons for that feeling, but let’s look at a few of the major reasons the building will be important for not just Wilmington, but surrounding communities as well.
First and foremost is the Deerfield Valley Health Center moving into the building. This is a critical component, not just for the use of the building, but for the well-being of the valley’s population. The high school building would give SVHC, the parent corporation, room to add services that will benefit all.
That need becomes even more critical with the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital. Folks in Readsboro and Stamford will have to travel farther for medical services. If SWHC has an expanded presence in Wilmington, some of that travel time could be mitigated, especially for critical emergency care. Until last week, an ambulance run in Readsboro would more often than not take a patient to NARH, as it is the closest facility. Now that that hospital is closed, the closest facility is quite a bit farther away. An expanded medical facility in Wilmington would be closer than either Bennington or Pittsfield, and could play a critical role in an emergency situation.
Community use is another vital role the high school building plays, and must continue to play in the future. One important group to keep involved is the Deerfield Valley Farmers’ Day Fair Association. After all, the DVFDA is the school’s neighbor, and the two entities share land, parking, and facilities. Any plans for the school, especially landscaping, should include input from fair officials, and should be done with thoughts of enhancing the fairgrounds as well as repurposing the school building. The school building, in particular the gym, is a critical component of the fair. A revitalized area, including landscaped grounds with walkways, could be a major boon to the fair as well as the broader community.
Youth sports groups should also be involved in the process. Keeping the high school’s gym available for use is important, and has been acknowledged. Also, the current ball fields around the property may need to be more multipurpose, with multiple little league baseball or youth soccer fields to allow for a variety of use by a variety of groups.
In fact, when taking a broad view, planners should look at the entire area. The land from Buzzy Towne Park to the high school and all the way to the east end of the demo derby field is some of the most accessible land in the valley. River walks, ball fields, skate parks, picnic tables, and a community center could all be tied together with pathways, parking, and lighting that would make for a wonderful area for all to use.
Board members from the Twin Valley towns, Wilmington and Whitingham, understandably have a lot on their plate right now. We understand they want to figure out what to do with the high school building as quickly as possible. But we encourage them, and the general public, to not lose sight of the broader expanse of land that surrounds it. Tied all together, it could be the most important facility and tract of public-use land in the valley.
Yes, it will take a bold vision, and no, it won’t happen overnight. But in terms of community access for the entire Deerfield Valley, there is nothing more important than finding the best use for the high school, while incorporating the grounds around it as well.