Update: School Master Plan, February 2022

On Tuesday, February 8, Dr. Gutekanst and the School Committee will be hosting an information session for community members to provide an update on the School Facilities Master Plan.


The process for assessing the facilities needs across all of Needham's schools began in 2019, when Dore + Whittier Architects was retained to study all eight Needham schools, identify challenges and propose possible plans for mitigation. In May of 2020, Dore + Whittier presented the study results, which determined that Pollard, Mitchell, and High Rock have structural and capacity issues that need to be addressed. Seven initial scenarios were presented and were then narrowed down to the three most feasible and appropriate. (The details of this process can be found in our October 2020 School Master Plan post.)


In October of 2020, the School Committee voted in favor of the plan that would renovate and expand Pollard to house grades 6-8, turn High Rock into a 6th elementary school, and build a new three-section school at Mitchell. But the estimated cost for this scenario of $252M in a 6-year time frame exceeds the Town's debt financing capacity, so an extension of the study was requested to find options that might better fit within the town's financing policies.


At the January 18, 2022 School Committee meeting, the results of the extended study were presented:






REVISED MASTER PLAN OPTIONS

The revised options vary in several ways, which affect both the estimated cost and completion time:

  • Which buildings will be renovated?

  • What order will they be renovated in?

  • Will the town seek MSBA funding?

  • When will the projects be completed?

Which buildings will be renovated?

This question is primarily driven by whether 6th grade remains at High Rock or is moved to the Pollard campus. The different options for Pollard then affect the size of Mitchell: if 6th grade moves to Pollard, High Rock can be converted to a 6th elementary school and Mitchell only needs to accommodate 3 sections. Otherwise, Mitchell would need to accommodate 5 sections, or more space would need to be built elsewhere (an addition at Eliot is being proposed in one scenario).


There has been general agreement among NPS administration, the middle school principals, and SC members that bringing grades 6-8 together at one location has programmatic and scheduling advantages that will benefit middle school students, while preserving many of the features of a sixth-grade center. Meanwhile, there are concerns as to whether a 5-section school can be built at the Mitchell site. And, depending on which option is selected, significant redistricting may be necessary at the elementary level.


What order will the buildings be renovated in?

The sequencing of the projects will affect the overall timeline and cost of the projects. Prioritizing Mitchell ahead of Pollard would require temporary space to be built to house Mitchell students during the renovation, increasing costs. Renovating Pollard first would allow 6th graders to vacate High Rock, which could be used as swing space during Mitchell construction.


Will the town seek MSBA funding?

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) provides partial reimbursement (typically around 30%) on approved school building projects. While the MSBA has provided funding for many previous NPS projects (including Sunita Williams), there is strong competition among school districts for limited resources and it is possible that Needham would not receive any funding for either of these projects on our desired timelines. If funding is not granted, the project would have to be re-proposed in a subsequent year. The application and approval process for MSBA projects is time consuming, which can slow down projects and add to annual cost escalations.


When will the projects be completed?

There are cost increases for each year a project is not completed. This is due to annually rising costs of materials and labor (estimated as 1.5% per year), as well as capital investments (CIP) that must still be made to keep the current buildings operating safely until they can be renovated or replaced.


On the other hand, spreading the cost out over a longer period of time allows the projects to meet the town's financing policies, which have been developed in conjunction with the Finance Committee, the Select Board and the Town Manager, and were last affirmed in 2009. These policies include limiting the principal and interest payments on debt to 3% of the town's General Fund revenue (e.g. property taxes less debt exclusions, state aid, and local receipts) and less than 10% of gross revenues. Currently, debt service that was added to the tax levy in past years, net of offsets is 7.3% (see Fiscal Year 2023 Proposed Budget section 2-3 for more info).



Option Aa. Revised Status Quo (5-section Mitchell)

This scenario prioritizes Mitchell and 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. The town would seek MSBA funding for both the Pollard and Mitchell projects.

  • Total cost: $391.3 million

  • Construction timeframe: July 2028 – September 2046



Option E. New Status Quo (4-section Mitchell)

This option is similar to Aa, but would instead build Mitchell as a 4-section school and enlarge Eliot to a 4-section school with an addition. It would also seek MSBA funding for the Pollard and Mitchell projects.

  • Total cost: $392.3 million

  • Construction timeframe: July 2028 – September 2053



Option C1a. High Rock as Elementary (Pollard MSBA)

This scenario prioritizes Pollard, which would be renovated as a grade 6-8 school. High Rock would be converted to a 6th elementary school, allowing the new Mitchell to be a smaller 3-section school. This option would seek MSBA funds for both Pollard and Mitchell projects.  

  • Total Cost: $327.0 million

  • Construction timeframe: April 2028 – September 2036


Option D1a. High Rock as Elementary (Pollard non-MSBA)

This scenario is the same as C1a except it would not seek MSBA funding for Pollard, allowing construction to begin an estimated two years earlier. 

  • Total Cost: $314.4 million

  • Construction timeframe: July 2026 – September 2034





NEXT STEPS

The School Committee is seeking input from the community on the current options. There will be an opportunity to comment and ask questions at the February 8 forum, or emails can be sent to schoolcommittee@needham.k12.ma.us.



HELPFUL LINKS

2022

School Master Plan Presentation to Staff & Community (2/8/22)

School Master Plan Extension Study (1/18/22)

Video of 1/18/22 Presentation (1:38:00–2:34:30)


2021

Enrollment Projection (12/7/21 SC packet, pages 5–37)

School Master Plan Extension: Scope & Schedule (10/5/21 packet, pages 27–36)

Video of 10/5/21 Presentation (13:30–43:00)

Enrollment Projection (1/2021)


2020

CNS Article: School Master Plan, October 2020

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)

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

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

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