The future of Cricket Field will remain uncertain for the time being, as the Needham School Committee decided Tuesday not to remove the park as an option for a future school site.
But school officials also said their first choice would be to keep Hillside Elementary School at the current site, at 28 Glen Gary Rd.— echoing the sentiments expressed by several Hillside parents as well as a group of Cricket Field neighbors who want to save the park.
“I think the Park and Recreation Commission’s vote was and is well-meaning and heartfelt and makes sense from their perspective,” Needham Public Schools Superintendent Dan Gutekanst said, referring to the commission’s June 11 vote to request the School Committee to remove Cricket Field as an option.
But Gutekanst also said the vote was premature, as the School Committee had just received a final prefeasibility report from Dore & Whittier, the firm hired to study the town’s options for rebuilding or renovating Hillside and Mitchell schools.
“This report is literally hot off the presses. I think it needs to be digested and studied by the committee over the next several months,” Gutekanst said.
The report, which is available to download on the school website and can also be viewed in hard copy form at the Needham Free Public Library and the school administration building, outlines all the possibilities raised during the study.
During the prefeasibility study, three main options came to the forefront as best meeting the needs of the town and addressing the School Committee’s goals—one of which is to have no more than four sections of each grade at any one elementary school.
The main options are: to rebuild or renovate Mitchell on the Mitchell site (187 Brookline St.) and Hillside at Hillside; to use Cricket Field as a site for Hillside and rebuild/renovate Mitchell at Mitchell; or to use DeFazio Park for a future school building, which would require town-wide redistricting.
Cricket and DeFazio have been suggested as possible sites largely because of the restrictions of the current Hillside site, including traffic flow and parking issues, the close proximity to wetlands and potential problems with soil contamination from nearby industrial sites.
There is also the issue of what to do with students while buildings are under construction. The district recently dealt with that issue with the Newman Elementary School project by housing students in modular classrooms on the site—adding about $5 million to the total cost of the project.
Neighbor concerns as well as the Park and Recreation Commission vote to remove Cricket Field as an option are noted in Dore & Whittier’s final prefeasibility study report and will continue to be addressed as the planning process continues, school officials said Tuesday.
At this point, officials are waiting for the Massachusetts School Building Authority to open its request for new statements of interest from school districts. Referred to as an “SOI,” this document outlines a school district’s current building conditions and asks the MSBA to partner with the district to develop a plan for renovation or rebuilding, with the MSBA helping to fund a portion of the project.
Needham is hoping the MSBA will accept the Mitchell and Hillside school projects together as one project—something they “rarely do,” Gutekanst noted.
If the MSBA does decide to work with Needham based on the SOI, which is expected to be submitted this fall, the town would then have 270 days to secure funding for a feasibility study, which would further explore the options for the two buildings.
At the earliest, Gutekanst said, the design process—as well as efforts to pass an override to fund the project—would begin in early 2014, into 2015, with construction of the first school taking place between 2015 and 2017. Then the process would begin again for the second school.