Thursday, March 30, 2017

High School Enrollment Increases Require Additional Space

For over four years the community and School Committee have discussed the need for additional space at Needham High School to accommodate increasing enrollment there. An earlier blog post provided context about space needs:  Needham High School Space Needs 2015

The school, which was designed to accommodate the 1,450 students anticipated at that time, opened in 2008-09 almost at capacity, and the enrollment has grown steadily since then. Currently there are 1,659 students at NHS, and we project an enrollment of over 1,800 in a few years—far exceeding the capacity of the school and stressing student program needs.  Based on a Comprehensive Demographic Study of state and local trends, we project enrollment to decline slightly after the 2025-26 school year and then to remain around 1,760 students in grades 9-12.

Community and Board members, Town Meeting, and the high school administration have been quite responsive to the space needs and challenges at Needham High:

  Creative scheduling options and the expansion of off campus lunch for older students have provided some relief.
  Interior spaces, including offices, storage areas and closets, have been repurposed and remodeled to accommodate the school’s students and programs.
  Increased use of one to one technology tools (e.g., laptops) and carving out small student study spaces and cubbies in the hallways has facilitated student learning needs.
  Last summer the cafeteria was expanded to meet lunch and school program needs.
  This year a comprehensive classroom space needs feasibility study has been undertaken, and the School Committee and Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC) recently endorsed a classroom expansion option that will meet the need for classroom space. 

The Town is also working with the architect to meet additional infrastructure needs at NHS, including electrical, flooring, and related needs in the gyms; replacing the chillers required for the proper operation of the HVAC system; and identifying concerns with the boilers and controls.  The goal of both the feasibility study and the review of infrastructure is to present to the May 2017 Town Meeting a request for design funds to address the classroom and infrastructure needs so that Needham High School will have appropriate and well maintained learning spaces for our students well into the future.

The option the School Committee and PPBC endorsed, Option F , proposes nine academic core classrooms, additional special education classrooms, and flexible collaboration/work space near the school’s Webster St. entrance.  The estimated cost of this option is $11.4 million. (Costs for work in the gym and HVAC system are not included in this total.) All of the options and additional information about the feasibility can be found here:  Needham High School Feasibility Presentation

It is important for parents and the community to learn more about this project and to weigh in on the scope and estimated costs so that Town boards can continue to collaborate to identify appropriate funding resources to support a possible design and construction. 

What is not clear at this point is how the proposed project would be funded.  What is absolutely clear, however, is that without additional classroom spaces at Needham High School, student programs, opportunities, and learning will be impacted for many years to come.


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