School Master Plan

On Tuesday, October 6, The Needham School Committee will hold a public hearing on a proposed School Master Plan to address the future building projects needed at Needham's elementary and middle schools. There are three options being considered, and after hearing community feedback, the School Committee will vote to select an option at the end of the meeting.


The proposed options are the culmination of a nearly year-long study done by Dore + Whittier Architects under the direction of the Town's Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC), and with input from a large stakeholder group including principals, school administrators, a School Committee member, and members of the Town's building maintenance and construction departments.


These projects will be a multi-year undertaking that will require the support of the entire community, with tentative completion dates of 2027–2032 (depending on the option selected). Once these projects are completed, it is hoped that the physical and space needs for Needham students will be satisfied for the foreseeable future. Selecting an option for additional study is the next step in the process. 



NEEDS ASSESSMENT

An assessment of all K-8 school facilities determined that the physical structure of the Mitchell school is in the worst condition, followed by Pollard. High Rock was also flagged for poor functional use of space. 





A space/capacity assessment was also done, taking into account enrollment projections and current available classrooms. This assessment uncovered further facilities needs over the longer term.


Elementary Capacity Summary:

  • Enrollment trajectory is flattening to slightly declining over next 15 years 

  • There are localized capacity challenges at Broadmeadow, Eliot, and Mitchell 

  • In a master plan that maintains the existing elementary school configuration, any Mitchell project needs to be a five section per grade school, instead of its current three to four sections per grade in order to maintain targeted class sizes

  • Total general classroom target for any master plan scenario should be at least 126, while the current number is 123 (including the new kindergarten modulars at Mitchell), in order to meet the midpoint for targeted class sizes


Middle School Capacity Summary:

  • Enrollment trajectory is modulating to slightly declining over next 15 years

  • There are capacity challenges at High Rock and there may be capacity challenges at Pollard depending on the daily school schedule

  • In a master plan that maintains the existing schools, High Rock will need an addition and Pollard will need renovations to some classrooms, and possibly an addition to replace current modulars that are almost 20 years old and past their useful life

  • Total teaching station target for grades 6-8 should be at least 101, versus the current total of 86 (not including the Pollard modulars)



MASTER PLAN OPTIONS

Based on these needs, seven master plan scenarios were explored and presented at the May 5 School Committee meeting. 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 programmatic considerations, feasibility, or cost, resulting in three scenarios being considered by the School Committee: 


Option 1. Status Quo

This scenario would maintain the current NPS structure of five elementary schools, 6th grade at High Rock, and 7th and 8th grades at Pollard. It would require additions at High Rock and Pollard, construction of a new 5-section Mitchell school, and construction of temporary swing space at Defazio.

  • Total cost: $310.3 million

  • Construction timeframe: September 2025 – September 2032

  • Total project duration: 139 months

Additional considerations:

  • The addition to High Rock would be difficult and costly given the site of the school.

  • The project requires a temporary school be constructed at Defazio to house Mitchell students during construction (estimated two years).

  • Both middle school principals have expressed interest in a combined 6-8 campus at Pollard (options 2 and 3) while also maintaining some autonomy for the 6th grade. This could increase programmatic flexibility that has been constrained by building limitations at High Rock and having some teachers that are shared between the two buildings.




Option 2. Discontinue High Rock

In this scenario, Pollard would become a grade 6-8 school through an addition and renovation, and a new 5-section Mitchell would be built. High Rock would no longer be used as a school and would be available for an alternative use.

  • Total cost: $287.1 million

  • Construction timeframe: June 2023 – September 2027

  • Total project duration: 70 months

Additional considerations:

  • While study and design would be simultaneous on the two projects, the Pollard addition would be completed first to allow High Rock to be used as swing space during the Mitchell construction (estimated two years). 

  • Although still maintaining the current five elementary schools, some redistricting would be necessary given the increased size of Mitchell.




Option 3. High Rock as Elementary School

This scenario would also turn Pollard into a grade 6-8 school, but the new Mitchell would be built as a smaller 3-section school, and with minimal renovations High Rock would be converted to a sixth elementary school with 3 sections.  

  • Total Cost: $251.9 million

  • Construction timeframe: June 2023 – September 2027

  • Total Duration: 70 months

Additional considerations:

  • As with option 2, the Pollard addition would be completed first to allow High Rock to be used as swing space during the Mitchell construction (estimated two years). 

  • This option would result in six more total elementary classrooms than options 1 or 2 (132 vs. 126).

  • Redistricting will be more significant when adding a sixth elementary school.

  • High Rock was originally an elementary school that was extensively renovated in 2008 to create a 6th-grade center. Very little work would be required to convert it back —  primarily downsizing bathroom fixtures for smaller children.  




FUNDING

To defray costs, the town will seek funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which typically reimburses approximately 30% of allowable costs on approved projects (for example, construction of swing space is not eligible for MSBA funding). To receive state reimbursement, Needham would need to be accepted into the MSBA's program, and it is unlikely they would partner with the town for both projects.

A debt exclusion override will be required for any of the Master Plan scenarios. 



NEXT STEPS

There will be a Public Hearing on Tuesday, October 6, followed by a vote by School Committee members. Community members are encouraged to share their ideas, questions, or concerns with the School Committee between now and Tuesday (schoolcommittee@needham.k12.ma.us).



HELPFUL LINKS

Enrollment Projection (1/7/20 SC packet, pages 41–85)

Master Plan Presentation (7 options) (5/5/20 SC packet, pages 38–135 )

Video of 5/5/20 Presentation (47:20–1:46:20)

Master Plan Presentation (3 options) (9/15/20 SC packet, pages 29–54)

Master Plan Report (9/15/20 SC packet, pages 55–121 )

Video of 9/15/20 Presentation (5:45–56:30)




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