Thursday, October 27, 2016

November 8th Election/Question 5: School Committee Urges Voters to Learn about the Proposed New Hillside School

Proposed new elementary school on Central Avenue to replace Hillside

The Needham School Committee encourages voters to learn about the proposed new elementary school on Central Avenue.  Chair Sue Neckes explains:

On November 8th, Needham voters will be asked whether or not to allow the Town to raise funds to construct a new Hillside School on Central Avenue.

The need to replace the existing Hillside Elementary School, built in 1959, has been well documented for years in the Town's Capital Improvement Plan and supported by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA):  Major building systems are beyond their useful life; the school is not up to modern code standards and is not handicapped accessible; it is undersized for the ongoing population and outdated for contemporary educational practices and programs; and, environmental issues at the current site, while well managed, have required diligent attention.

For several years, the Town, including the School Committee and the Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC) has worked with educational designers, architects and other experts to identify the best location for the school and to design it to meet the needs of the community and the children who will attend the school during the coming decades.  Town Meeting has approved funding for the new school at every step in the process.  The new school will provide the necessary and appropriate spaces for project-based learning; curriculum in art, music, Spanish, and technology; and special education.  Additionally, with space for full-day kindergarten, the School Committee and community will significantly reduce the barriers to accomplishing our goal of offering full-day kindergarten to all of our students. 

Based on MSBA requirements, the school is slated for an enrollment of 430, but through careful planning to ensure four sections per grade, the school will have capacity to accommodate up to 544 children.  Enrollment is expected to be 483 in 2020 when the school is scheduled to open.  The new school, planned to receive LEED Silver certification, will be highly energy efficient.  The properly sized classrooms with well-placed windows and purposeful natural lighting are designed specifically to provide the most conducive teaching and learning environment for current practices.

The specific wording of Ballot Question 5 is:

“Shall the Town of Needham be allowed to exempt from the provisions of Proposition Two-and one-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bond issued in order to provide architectural design, engineering, construction, site work and site acquisition for the Hillside School on Central Avenue?”

The total cost of the project is not to exceed $66 million, because that is the total amount Town Meeting has approved.  This amount includes the cost to design, engineer and construct the school, and will cover the town's cost of acquiring the Owen's Poultry Farm site and adjacent properties on Central Avenue.  The MSBA will contribute about 21% of the total project cost, approximately $13-14 million.  As both funder and watchdog, the MSBA has carefully reviewed and approved our plans and, not only offered its support, but its limited funds as well. The estimated impact on the annual tax bill for the average single family home to pay the annual debt service will vary over time, but will not exceed a maximum of $375 per year.  The School Committee, Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and Town Meeting all enthusiastically support this project and the financing plan.

The School Committee recognizes the tax burden placed on town residents in supporting this project.  We hope you will agree that providing a high quality education, an expectation of our Town and a reason so many of us choose to live here, requires buildings that support 21st century teaching and learning. 

For more information about the proposed new school:  New Hillside Elementary School

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