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SC Meeting: May 5, 2020

At the May 5 School Committee meeting, studies were presented for both Emery Grover and the School Facilities Master Plan. Dr. Gutekanst also gave an update on the district's response to the COVID-19 health crisis.

School Committee Comments

SC members presented a video recognizing teacher appreciation day.

Superintendent's Comments

HS graduation is still being planned with details to follow. Dr. Gutekanst acknowledge this is an emotional time, and district is working hard to ensure the celebration is right.

Emery Grover Study

Joel Bargmann and Reese Schroeder from BHPlus Architects presented. Detailed information and floorpans are contained on the meeting packet, pages 12-34.

Six options were originally considered, including new construction at the Hillside and Stephen Palmer sites. For various reasons some of these options were eliminated, resulting in a focus on three final options. All considered options would:

  • Make use of the current Emery Grover site

  • Include space for full Information Technology department

  • Include a 1,200sf Conference Center

  • Require off-site parking spaces at Stephen Palmer

1. New construction on current site

This option allows the entire building to be moved closer to Highland Avenue, with 62 on-site spaces behind the building. Surprisingly, it does not provide a cost benefit as compared to renovation the existing building. The cost to demolish and replace the shell of the existing building is very high due to square footage, plus the added cost of remediation and removal of materials.

2. Renovation of existing building with addition

Renovating the existing building would address current accessibility issues while also preserving the historic building (Emery Grover is on the National Register of Historic Buildings). All finishes in the renovated portion would be new and up to current code. The majority of offices would be in the addition, to maximize natural light. Additional zoning waivers would be required for this option.

3. Renovation of existing building with addition rotated

An L-shaped addition would maximize natural light but result in fewer on-site parking spaces (42). Adding underground parking below the addition would result in a net increase of 8 on-site parking spaces.

To open the building by 2025, design funds would be needed in spring 2021, and construction funds in spring 2022. Changes to zoning bylaws will also need to be approved by Town Meeting. School administration would move to Hillside, which will be available mid-2022 after the new police and fire buildings are complete.

The cost estimates for options 1 and 2 are very close — around $27.5 million. Option 3 is estimated at $28.5 million. Since options 1 and 2 are similar in cost, BHPlus suggests eliminating option 1 to preserve the historic building. But several SC members expressed a preference for option 1, which would result in an all-new facility which makes optimal use of the space.

A major determining factor will be if CPA (Community Preservation Act) funds can be used for the renovation. It is possible, if the Emery Grover building is preserved, that CPA funds could cover up to 20% of the construction cost, which would then make option 2 preferable. The added parking and meeting space will be a benefit to the entire community.

School Master Plan Facilities Study

Donald Walter, Jason Boone, and Michelle Rogers, from Dore & Whittier Architecture presented. Detailed information is contained in the meeting packet, pages 38-135.

An assessment of all school facilities determined that the Mitchell school is in the worst condition, followed by Pollard. High Rock is in good condition but significantly over capacity. Broadmeadow and Eliot also have space issues, but those can be addressed through the renovation of Mitchell and a small amount of redistricting.

Based on this needs assessment, seven master plan scenarios were explored. A wide range of options were considered including: making Pollard a grade 6-8 school, converting High Rock into an elementary school, making Newman into a second middle school, converting all elementary schools to K-4 and making one or two 5-8 schools, and even building a "Super School" that would house grades K-8.

A number of these options were eliminated due to cost or feasibility issues, resulting in four possible options:

  1. New K-5 Mitchell with 5 sections, renovate High Rock for grade 6, renovate Pollard for 7-8

  2. New K-5 Mitchell with 5 sections, renovate Pollard for 6-8, High Rock used as swing space

  3. New K-5 Mitchell with 3 sections, convert High Rock to K-5 with 3 sections, renovate Pollard for 6-8

  4. New K-4 Mitchell with 3 sections, convert High Rock to K-4 with 3 sections, renovate Newman as 5-8, renovate Pollard for 5-8

Key questions are now:

  • Should grades 6-8 be housed together one school?

  • Is the district open to a new grade configuration, with K-4 and 5-8 schools?

The superintendent and SC members expressed a strong desire to not change the current grade configuration, which would eliminate option 4. There also seemed to be support among members for restoring Pollard to a 6-8 school and High Rock to an elementary school (option 3). It was pointed out that High Rock was intended as a temporary solution to crowding at Pollard. Both cost and programming benefits of the remaining options will need to be considered.

Response to COVID-19 Health Emergency: Update

After feedback from staff and families, some changes will be implemented in the next two weeks:

  • Increased "live" contact with teachers

  • Streamlined school-home communication - weekly schedulewill be sent each Sunday

  • Clear and targeted Learning Goals by grade level

Other updates:

  • Special Education — Per the federal government, all Special Education timeframes and deadlines must be upheld despite the health crisis. DESE has provided additional guidance.

  • Contracts — Transportation and facility contracts have been amended. Any savings will go into meeting anticipated FY20 deficit.

  • Building access — Principals are developing plans for families to access buildings to collect student belongings. Older students will be prioritized first.

  • COVID-19 Planning & Advisory Committee — will provide feedback and advice on both Remote Learning and school reopening. Will include students, families, and community members.

Superintendent Evaluation Process

The annual evaluation will be overseen by immediate past Chair Michael Greis. It consists of a self-assessment by Dr. Gutekanst based on both Needham goals and DESE standards which is then reviewed and discussed in open session. DESE is piloting a new rubric for assessment which may or may not be used by Needham this year.

Action Item

2020-21 elementary, middle, and high school handbooks approved unanimously.


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