Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Proposed New School at Central Avenue!

I am very pleased that the Needham School Committee has voted unanimously to select a site on Central Avenue for a new Hillside Elementary School.  The site, currently the Owen’s Poultry Farm property and adjacent houses, is an excellent choice for a new school for several reasons:

The proposed school on the site.
Central Avenue is at bottom of drawing; click to enlarge image.

First, the site meets each of the priorities (italicized below) the School Committee identified for a new elementary school in 2012:

  Elementary schools need sufficient space for an educational program consisting of 24 classrooms, K-5 or four sections per grade, and Full Day Kindergarten.  As planned, the school’s design capacity is for 430 students but can easily accommodate 544 students.  Full Day Kindergarten is planned for the school.

  Elementary schools should be neighborhood-based.   An analysis shows that a similar number of students will walk to a new school on Central Avenue as they currently do to Hillside; the fewest number of students would be able to walk to DeFazio.

  Reduce transportation costs when possible.  The same number of buses will be needed for a Central Avenue school; DeFazio or other sites outside the current district would require at least two new buses and additional and ongoing operating expenses.  Five buses—the same number as today—will travel to and from the school on Central Avenue.

  Minimize redistricting when possible.  No major redistricting will be necessary, although some minor redistricting could occur to help balance classes in Town.

  Minimize costs that will not be reimbursed or are considered temporary (i.e., modular classrooms).  No temporary classrooms will need to be constructed; students will remain at Hillside until the project is complete.

Students will enjoy this view to the west.

Second, the site provides ample, sufficient, and appropriate space for all of the educational and programmatic needs identified by the School Committee, school staff, and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). 

  The 24 classrooms are complemented with additional classrooms for Spanish, technology, the arts, performing arts, music, physical education, and special education.  The site provides enough space to ensure that flexible academic and learning space for each grade level is also included in the design.

  Offices, meeting rooms, storage, and conference areas are planned as well.  A 6,000 square foot gym, cafeteria with additional areas for quiet eating zones, and separate performance stage are all part of the design.  Additionally, outdoor play areas, including an art area, playground, hardscape basketball and foursquare areas as well as field space are all components of the plan.  A walking trail to the hill is also a design possibility and will extend the available learning and play space for children.

  Parking, including separate parent and bus access points are included as well as an additional emergency access drive for public safety.  Parking for over 100 cars (twice as many as currently exist at Hillside today) is planned.  In addition, parent and staff access, including student drop off/pick up, will be designed to minimize traffic queuing on Central Avenue and ensure student and neighborhood safety.

  The school’s planned entrance is sufficiently set back from the road approximately 185 feet.  The Broadmeadow entrance is located about 200 feet from the road, and Mitchell is situated 160 feet from Brookline Avenue.

Third, the Central Avenue site will allow the Town to preserve two potential future sites for School or Town use:  The existing Hillside campus and DeFazio. 

It is important to the School Committee that sufficient land be available for a future school should the community require one due to enrollment needs, program expansion, or educational requirements.

Finally, the Central Avenue site is beautiful and safe and will be a wonderful venue for children to grow, learn, play, and achieve.

Properly designed, the Central Avenue site provides for student, staff, and family comfort, safety and security; enjoyable play areas, including green and hardscape spaces; walking, gathering, and outdoor learning areas; and an appropriately sized school that allows for enrollment growth. 

Student safety and security will be critical components of the school’s design, including student drop off/pick up areas.  Existing crossing guards will be redeployed to the school and adjacent streets as determined by public safety officials.  In addition, the Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC) will invite neighbors to comment on and become involved in the school site design to ensure the disruption to the community will be minimized and traffic concerns can be managed and mitigated through thoughtful consultation, planning, and design.

The expansive conservation area to the west toward Wellesley, the woods on the north side of the property, and the long forgotten trail to the hill offer a scenic, picturesque, and attractive school setting—one that will allow students and staff to take advantage of the venue unhindered from the demands of a busy athletic/DPW site and in a way that complements, supports, and enriches the educational program.

This is the north view of the proposed Central Avenue site.

 The Central Avenue site will offer the Town an extraordinary venue to build an exceptional elementary school for the Hillside community, a school that will serve the needs of Needham’s children for several generations to come.

For more information about the Hillside planning process, check out the District’s website:  Hillside Planning

1 comment:

  1. New school buildings are always exciting and a long-term asset to the community. The majority of school buildings in the Northeast were built in the 1950s and 1960s as populations exploded in the suburbs. There is always personal attachment to a building that will no longer be used as a school, but our country as a whole could use many new schools that meet modern teaching needs. Needham should be applauded for the forward thinking approach it is taking to meeting the educational needs of our children now and in the future.