The 2018 Annual Town Meeting begins tonight, and part of the budget request is funding for modular classrooms at Mitchell, which are necessary to accommodate full-day Kindergarten at that school. This has generated some more general discussion around space planning and enrollment projections, which School Committee Chair Aaron Pressman addressed in a recent post to the Needham Facebook Page.
Among the main take-aways:
Enrollment projections are based on work by both a professional demographer hired by the town and the Full-day Kindergarten Study.
Projections DO take into account both current and future residential building projects.
Restricting is not being discussed at this time.
The town receives funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for school projects, but can only apply for one project at a time. After the Sunita L. Williams School project is completed, Needham can re-apply for MSBA funds to rebuild Mitchell (planned for 2028 completion), and then Pollard (2030).
Aaron Pressman's full post:
"Hi. I’m the chairman of the school committee. I’ve been on the school committee for five years and in town meeting for about 15 years. I noticed that there’s been a lot of discussion here lately around the new apartment projects, the capacity of various schools, and the possibility of redistricting, some stimulated by our plan to add modulars at the Mitchell school. I wanted to offer some facts and some background materials to inform the discussion. And while I’m not here to have an argument, I’ll try to answer questions you have below. We also welcome your feedback via email at email@example.com
"The town employs a professional demographer who tries to model how school enrollment will evolve in the future. While school enrollment across Massachusetts has been flat or declining over the past few decades, Needham‘s has increased and looks to keep on increasing, at least for a few more years. This is the most recent demography report: http://www.needham.k12.ma.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_64429/File/Departments/Administrative/Business%20Office/construction%20Projects/Needham%20MA%20Demographic%20Study%2019-33%20(2).pdf
"Another great document to take a look at is the full day kindergarten study by Dore Whittier Architects that we received a few months back. The study took the enrollment projections, which include assumptions about the big new apartment complexes, and looked at how they would impact available space in each of the elementary schools over the next 10 to 20 years.
"The School Committee has not discussed redistricting to this point. If you look at the space projections in the full day K study, you’ll see that some schools are projected to actually have extra space in coming years, while the Eliot School looks like it’s facing a crunch around 2025. Again, this is just based on projections, some for apartment projects that haven’t even been built yet, so I think we may have to have to see how things play out.
"People have also been discussing when the Mitchell School will be rebuilt, as it’s the last of the five elementary schools to get an overhaul. A few years ago, we went to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which reimburses us about 30% of the cost of school construction, and told them we needed to rebuild Hillside, Mitchell and the Pollard Middle School. They have limited funds and many requests and they told us we could do Hillside first and then come back and re-apply for Mitchell and Pollard.
"So we're doing Hillside–that's the new Sunita L. Williams school going up on Central Ave. And in our current capital plan, we are looking to do Mitchell next. But it’s still uncertain when the MSBA will put us back in their queue given that they have many requests from other towns. Also keep in mind that Needham has some non-school building projects on tap, some of which are extremely important, like the upcoming police and fire building projects.
"That’s why if you look at the school department's most recent long-term capital plan you see that a new Mitchell school is scheduled to be ready to open in 2028 and a renovated Pollard school in 2030. And again those are estimates, which depend on the MSBA schedule and the schedule of the town's other buildings."