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Sunday, May 6, 2012

School Space Planning: Next Up, Hillside and Mitchell


School space and school renovations continue to top the agenda for the Needham School Committee and administration.  Even while we wrap up a major repair project at Newman, which we began planning for right after the new High Rock School was opened, we are looking ahead to the renovation and/or replacement of the Hillside and Mitchell elementary schools.  And it won’t be too long before we consider what it is we need to do to modernize Pollard. 

Last week architects from Dore and Whittier shared an update with community members about their analysis of Hillside and Mitchell and possible building options. The School Committee and Permanent Public Building Committee commissioned the study in anticipation of submitting a request to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for further study and possible state funding of a renovation project for both schools.

The School Committee established several conditions they asked the architects to consider in their planning.  Among them:

  Elementary school size between 400 and 500 is optimum.
  Neighborhood based schools reduce transportation costs and build a sense of community and ownership.
  A full day Kindergarten option is important.
  Minimize redistricting.
  Avoid costly and unreimburseable features like temporary classrooms to house students while construction is underway.

Based on these assumptions, the architects have suggested three ideas for further review:

  Renovate and/or repair Hillside and Mitchell at their present locations. This requires an expansion of each school’s footprint to meet new MSBA, educational, and building and planning board code requirements.  This option would likely involve building a new and permanent school on the Mitchell site to accommodate Hillside’s population while construction takes place on the Hillside campus. After this phase of construction, Hillside students would move into their new facility and Mitchell students would move into their newer facility while the old Mitchell is torn down to make way for fields and additional parking.  This option requires over 900 students to be co-located on the Mitchell campus for up to two years while construction is underway on the Hillside campus.

  Build a new Hillside Elementary School on Cricket Field, renovate Mitchell, and repurpose the existing Hillside campus for ball fields and possible school space.
In this scenario, the School Committee and Park and Recreation Commission agree to “swap” land:  A new Hillside is built on Cricket and the fields are replaced on the existing Hillside campus after the school is torn down.  Possible school administration and/or early childhood programming might also be planned for the site alongside the fields.  In this option, students remain in their existing school building until they can be relocated off campus to the new school at Hillside while Mitchell is renovated.  Using the new facility as swing space is a prudent use of taxpayers’ dollars.  This option does, however, place two elementary schools (Hillside and Eliot) nearer one another, likely requiring some redistricting. 

  Build a new 6th Grade Center on the DeFazio Field site; move Mitchell students to DeFazio while Mitchell is renovated; move Hillside students to High Rock or Newman; move 6th graders to DeFazio; and repurpose the Hillside campus for fields and/or additional school programming space.  This option takes advantage of DeFazio, which is under partial control of the School Committee, and moves 6th graders near Pollard’s campus and ball fields.  It does require a tight building design at DeFazio given space considerations, and it requires the Hillside community to be redistricted.  But it does allow the Hillside campus to be used as a future school site, school administration space, or for other community programming and activities.

All of the proposed options have limitations and possibilities, and each requires further study and exploration before deciding a course of action.  In fact, the School Committee will want to share this information with the MSBA and gain their perspective and feedback; the MSBA, in response, could even suggest a different plan.  The architects continue their work, including cost estimates and implications for these three ideas, and they will present a final report later in June.

What is clear is that the entire Needham community—not just Hillside and Mitchell families—will need to work together on a practical and thoughtful renovation plan that potentially has broad implications for all of Needham’s students and key neighborhoods near Hillside, Mitchell, Newman, Eliot, and DeFazio and Cricket Fields.  What is equally clear is that this is a community that thrives on collaboration and is willing to step up to ensure a responsible plan is developed with the MSBA and meets the needs of Needham’s students and its residents.

For additional information about these and other options studied, please visit the Needham Public Schools website and check out the News section: http://www.needham.k12.ma.us/

32 comments:

  1. Marvin BerkowitzJune 3, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    The proposal In the Hillside and Mitchell Schools Pre-Feasibility Study to locate the Hillside School at Cricket Field is a very unreasonable option that would greatly disrupt the neighborhood and would greatly reduce the quality of life in the neighborhoods that border Cricket Field. Locating the school at Cricket Field would also reduce real estate values in the area and compromise the economic well being of the area’s residents. The feasibility study acknowledges that locating the school at Cricket would impact the surrounding area by locating a school in a dense residential neighborhood. Locating a school at Cricket would also result in limited parking and play areas for its students. Finally this would require re-districting within the Eliot School district. This is a concern similar to those expressed about the existing Hillside site. There must be other options explored for rebuilding Hillside that are less damaging to the Needham Heights Community.

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  2. As a resident in the Cricket Field area, I want to say that there is nothing the town could do to address my concerns about this project, except to leave Cricket Field alone! The streets near the field are too narrow already. You cannot widen them without putting people's homes too close to the street, not to mention the unpalatability of seizing property to do so by eminent domain.

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  3. Any consideration of Cricket Field as a Hillside School site puts the convenience of school children for two years against the destruction of a neighborhood FOREVER!

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  4. Cricket Field is a historical location. It was deeded to the land by the Carter Family, avid cricket fans. It is the last remaining cricket pitch in Needham, and it is the reason that Needham Heights is the Cricket Capital of Massachusetts. I do not think the Carter Family deeded the land to Needham so that it could become buildings, a parking lot, a driveway, and a small field. They certainly wouldn't have expected it less than a year after the field was honored as an important part of Needham 300.

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  5. The comments by the superintendent to the community are insensitive, disgusting and offensive. Residents of William Street are concerned that we will no longer have viable entry and exit routes to our HOMES and he accuses us of not having the best interest of Needham students as our priority. Do I need to be a prisoner in my home to serve the best interests of the students?

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  6. Mr. Superintendant asked Dore & Whittier to write a "robust" report explaining the current traffic flow problems at the current Hillside site.

    Why didn't he ask for a "robust" report regarding the traffic and MANY other problems that a permanent school on Cricket Field would bring to the Needham Heights area.

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    1. Such an excellent point!!!!!!!!!!
      It is so obvious to the residents that the infrastructure of our neighborhood. could not support a school. That's the main reason we are so horrified at the prospect!!!

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    2. Also, A concern of the current Hillside side is that it is locked by wetlands.

      Cricket Field is locked by houses on ALL four sides with very narrow streets in the neighborhood. Sunnyside, Williams, Avery, Pine Grove, Wayne etc.

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  7. It's clear from last night's statements by the Superintendent that he is interested only in his own agenda - moving Hillside School. Many parents of Hillside students bought their homes so that it would be walking distance to this school.

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    1. If the writer had heard all of my public comments over the last several months, s/he would know that I would prefer to rebuild Hillside at its current location. The superintendent's agenda is the School Committee's agenda; the School Committee's agenda is what is in the best interest of the Town's children.

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    2. Mr. Superintendent - thank you for this response. However, many of us remain confused. If you would prefer to rebuild Hillside at its current location, why would you ask Dore & Whittier for a robust report on the issues associated with Hillside's site?

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    3. Thanks for the question. The School Committee has authority and control of the Hillside and Mitchell campuses, and this makes it much easier and more practical for them to focus their efforts and energies around rebuilding and/or renovating both schools at those sites if it is possible. After all, why go to all the trouble to look elsewhere if what you already have might work? I am certain the School Committee would prefer to spend their time on matters of teaching and learning and not real estate, traffic patterns, disrupting neighborhoods, and changing the community's landscape. I think they would prefer to rebuild those schools in a way that would work for their current locations. However, the reality is the Hillside site is complicated by a lack of access/egress/parking; significant wetlands and unbuildable areas; and the matter of the environmental plume sitting underneath the school. I want to make sure the architects pay attention to the costs associated with ameliorating these issues at Hillside as part of their report. I believe the community should understand fully the complications associated with Hillside; I don't think it would be helpful at this stage to sugarcoat or minimize the issues. I recognize there are issues at the Cricket or DeFazio sites, but those issues, as far as I know, are not as severe as they are at Hillside (i.e., the toxic plume). I think it is important for the entire community to understand all the concerns and options so that an affordable and practical solution can be reached- one that meets the needs of our students and neighbors. Of course, if in the coming year it seems to make sense to look off site for a new school (i.e., Cricket, DeFazio, or perhaps another venue?) there will not only be a healthy community conversation, there will be ample traffic studies, reports, and planning informing that conversation. Complicating all of this, of course, is where we might place children when the schools are under construction. The School Committee will expect a full and candid study and dialogue about these two schools; I believe the community expects the same. The good thing is that Needham is a community that values collaboration and working together to find solutions to very real problems. I know folks will continue to cooperate to solve this unique challenge! Let's keep the conversation going! Thanks.

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    4. The superintendent makes it sound like the Cricket neighborhood should graciously accept its destruction ,so that others do not have to attend a school on a toxic waste dump. Those are NOT the only two choices.

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  8. Does the third option (a new 6th grade center at deFazio and High Rock becoming an elementary school once again) mean that there would no longer be a Hillside school located anywhere, and several elementary schools would have 500+ students? Of course, this would result in massive redistricting. Do we want mega-schools for that age group? And a lot more parents would have to pay for bus transportation, which is currently $400 a year. Would having no Hillside School be less disruptive to the area than relocating it at Cricket Field? The more I think about this issue, the more I believe that Cricket is the best alternative, despite the adjacent neighborhood opposition. And it would be cheaper by several million dollars too.

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  9. Option 1A.2 is the option of choice. It is basically the same price as the Cricket Field option minus the remediation cost. (negligible when it comes to numbers this high)

    While it is agreed that putting 900+ students on the Mitchell campus for 2 years is an inconvenience for the parents for drop off and pick up it is certainly not all that bad.

    Once the construction is done on the current Hillside site, everything goes back to normal with no neighborhood disruptions.

    1A.2 is the option of choice!

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  10. Sharon Serinsky writes
    It is very clear to any resident around Cricket Field that the narrow streets, close proximity to houses, traffic congestion from Hillside, Central and Great Plain Avenue and the upcoming relocation of the senior center and additional traffic would make the location of an elementary school at this location irresponsible. The cost of several million dollars as stated at the school committee meeting this week is really irrelevant when you are considering 80 plus million dollars. We need to preserve our neighborhoods for Needham to continue be an attractive and safe place to live and work. WE need to consider all the citizens of Needham: both the students and the adults who have contributed to the town. This process requires thoughtful consideration so we can make sound decisions that lead us forward not just find a solution that meet needs for a few years.

    The Needham Heights Neighborhood has welcomed the building of a new senior center but how many groups are we expected to accommodate at the cost of the quality of life to the neighborhood. There is a better solution than building on Cricket Field, send the architects back to the drawing board! Cricket Field is not the solution to this issue.

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  11. Superintendent Gutekanst states: "I recognize there are issues at the Cricket or DeFazio sites, but those issues, as far as I know, are not as severe as they are at Hillside (i.e., the toxic plume)." Firstly, I find myself wondering what kind of poor due diligence ever allowed a school to be built in close proximity to a toxic plume in the first place. Isn't there a responsibility on the part of the parties involved in THAT decision to be held accountable and fund the clean up of the grounds, rather than attempting to abscond with one of the few remaining green areas in the town that so admirably serves the entire popultaion of Needham?

    In terms of his assessment of the issues of the Hillside site relative to Cricket Field, I would venture to say that his attitude might be different if he owned a home here, and his children grew up on one of the streets that will be irrevocably affected by relocating the school to Cricket. I can honestly say, as a William Street resident who made a lifelong investment in my home precisely because of its proximity to Cricket, I find this comment demeaning and borderline ignorant. After all the disingenuous, let's all work together, kumbayah blather is teased away, this not only feels like, but is, for all intents and purposes, a land grab, where the citizens of this particular neighborhood not only lose the precious commodity which Cricket represents to all of us, but in addition, pay, through our tax dollars and devalued real estate, for the poor judgement of those who green lighted the building of Hillside in a toxic location in the first place. Not on my watch please.

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    1. Hillside School was in existence before the contaminates were discovered leaching under it and the EPA declared the area a Superfund Site. But it is one of the safest schools around because of the subsequent safety procedures put in place and the daily monitoring. Rebuilding the school could potentially stir up pollutants that would be dangerous to the neighborhood and wetlands, which would devalue their property values, and add many millions to the cost of the project.

      Needham is very fortunate to have a dedicated, involved superintendent who cares for the over 5000 students educated in its public schools. It is your remarks that are ignorant and demeaning.

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  12. You know, the architect's report mentions that the proximity of Hillside's fields to wetlands often results in closed wet fields. If you "swap" the Cricket fields for new Hillside fields, those new fields will too often be wet too. What will you do with the high school girls soccer and lacrosse programs? Do you really want to cripple two girls' programs?

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  13. "Rebuilding the school could potentially stir up pollutants that would be dangerous to the neighborhood and wetlands, which would devalue their property values, and add many millions to the cost of the project." If this is indeed the case, how could the idea of 'swapping' fields possibly hold any merit? Either the contaminants pose an unacceptable environmental threat, or they do not-you can't have it both ways. If the site is polluted to the degree where rebuilding a school or other structure poses a safety hazard to the surrounding environs, then it cannot be allowed to stand as is, and needs to be cleaned up, regardless of its final intended use.

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  14. Make the Poultry Farm an offer they can't refuse!

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  15. Mr. Gutekanst, Do we know if the MSBA will allow/fund a school to be rebuilt on a site where there are environmental concerns? Is it possible to ask someone on the MSBA before going forward? If the Hillside site will be rejected because of the toxic plume it would be helpful to know that before submitting the SOI. Thank you, Sue Owen

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    1. Thanks, Ms. Owen. It's a great question and one we will certainly discuss with the MSBA. In fact, the School Committee would really like to reach out to the MSBA in advance of a submittal to see if we can have an informal conversation with them about our unique situation here in Needham. Of course, we may hear from the MSBA that each town has unique challenges, but it is worth a conversation!

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  16. What is amazing is this Superintendent and School Committee are inclined to spend as much money as possible for SPED education. They want to hire top-notch specialists to educate some sick kids. At the same time they want to show middle-finger to normal kids, to deprive normal healthy kids from athletics and sports activities by destroying Cricket Field. You will be judged harshly by generations to come.

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    1. How blessed you are to have healthy children that do not need special education services, who are able to learn without extra services and be involved in sports. May they never be harmed in a car accident or acquire a disease that would cause a traumatic brain injury or confine them to a wheelchair. Life can change in an instance, and it would be a shame if pigheaded attitudes like yours would prevent your children from being educated in a safe and updated school building with top-notch specialized teachers and supports.

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    2. Thank you for your blessings. It's truth that accidents do happen and children can get sick or become disabled/impaired. Fortunately, it doesn't happen to majority of kids. And if it happens to my child, it will be my and my own family tragedy. Life is life, and it's not perfect. But I wouldn't want to take hostage the whole society and make it pay for all kinds of support for my child while short-changing the majority of the kids who are growing to become productive and procreative citizens of the country. It would be immoral.

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  17. I don't understand how moving the Hillside school to Cricket Field, could really work without wholesale redistricting, and significant new transportation costs. The families walking to hillside would find themselves far from the new school. The new school would be on top of Eliot, and families would find themselves now closer to Cricket. I don't know who would go where, but it would be a mess.

    As bad as the construction issues might be at Hillside, the simple truth is that Hillside is well located, and we need the Hillside school.

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  18. Have you considered the option of using the High Rock School temporarily as swing space during the construction years and returning the 6th graders to Pollard for that time? If I read the population predictions correctly, it looks like the sixth grade class size stabilizes around 400 in the upcoming years, and while Pollard would be temporarily over crowded, it's a situation that we have lived with in the past. It's not ideal, but it's doable and could potentially reduce costs significantly. Also, it's temporary, not permanent pain.

    Thanks,

    Rachel Miller

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    1. Rachel:

      Thanks for the suggestion. Candidly, I think as many reasonable options as possible should be discussed and pursued. We would need to consider carefully the use of Pollard as swing space for the 6th grade or any grade due to the challenges of putting more than the 7th and 8th grade at Pollard now. The middle school (grades 6-8) population has increased by over 200 students since all three grades were in an already overcrowded building, and this fall many of the modular classrooms will be used by foreign language teachers. Placing the 6th graders back into Pollard for up to four or five years of estimated construction time means significant sacrifices in terms of increased class size, program reductions, and special education costs, among other logistical issues. Put another way, the existing 6th grade program and the 7/8th grade middle school program are not what they were before and moving them back together requires more than finding additional classroom, cafeteria, gym, bathroom, and hallway spaces. Nonetheless, I think more ideas and options can and should surface as we begin to think about approaching the MSBA. All good ideas should be vetted! Thanks.

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  19. I am a bit confused by the Superintendent and School Committee repeatedly saying things like " Our responsibility is to do what is best for Needham's schoolchildren." There would be many adverse effects of a school on Cricket Field which are not directly educational. Here's a brief list:

    1) Disruption/ displacement of memorials at the field
    2) Severe parking and traffic issues
    3) Loss of a field!!!
    4) Reduction in surrounding property values and ensuing loss of tax revenue
    5) Loss of a historically significant property
    6) Loss of a community meetingplace

    One could argue that the field itself is of great value to the schoolchildren- just not during school hours. But, putting that aside, I have very serious questions. I am not being facetious.

    Are the committee and the superintendent trying to say that those adverse effects are not their concern? Are those effects not theirs to prioritize? Is it someone else's job to push back with those concerns, like Park & Rec or the Selectmen? Do the superintendent and school committee feel that all non-school concerns are less important or not their job?

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    1. No one has answered my questions. So, I guess "What's best for Needham students" is just rhetoric.

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  20. What if the Hillside School trades places with the Needham Library?

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