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Committee Considers Possible Options for Hillside, Mitchell Schools

Company hired to do ‘pre-feasibility’ study gave an update on their progress on March 7, outlining four potential directions for the district

With renovations at moving along—the should be removed by the start of the next school year— officials talked Wednesday of what’s next for two other buildings, and elementary schools.

At their regular meeting, moved to Wednesday, March 7 because of the primary, the NPS School Committee heard an update from Dore & Whittier, the company hired to conduct a “pre-feasibility” study of the two buildings.

Both Hillside and Mitchell are considered “overcrowded” according to Massachusetts School Building Authority standards and have been identified as priorities in the coming budget years on the School Committee’s capital improvement plan.

Hillside Elementary School, at 28 Glen Gary Rd., was opened in 1961 and last underwent major renovation in 1997, according to the MSBA website. Its most recent enrollment was at 445 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

William Mitchell Elementary School, at 187 Brookline St., was opened in 1950 and last underwent major renovations in 2004, according to the MSBA. Its latest enrollment was at 482 students, also in K-5.

Representatives from Dore & Whittier said they are a little over halfway through their review of the two buildings, which includes a look at all the elementary schools in town as well as the all-sixth grade High Rock School.

The process included a “visioning” workshop attended by parents, teachers, administrators, School Committee members and town representatives who reviewed some of their goals and visions for the schools.

As a result of that workshop, and their own review, Dore & Whittier presented a list of potential plans for the two buildings, one or a few of which could become part of the School Committee’s statement of intent to be submitted to the MSBA for consideration by next fall.

The MSBA partners with Massachusetts communities to help fund renovations and construction of new schools.

The options were grouped into four main categories:

Option 1: Hillside and Mitchell

Under this option, the district would only look at the two elementary schools and would renovate or rebuild each building on its respective site. The district could choose to keep both K-5 populations at each school, or the district could split the two populations between the schools—possibly putting K-1 at Hillside and 2-5 at Mitchell or, in another suggestion, placing K-3 students at Mitchell and 4-5 students at Hillside.

Donald Walter, a partner at Dore & Whittier, noted that the considerably sized wetlands buffer area on the Hillside property does limit the construction that could be done on that site and said that reducing the population at that site might make sense.

Option 2: Hillside and Mitchell

The second category also considers just the two buildings but looks at making some bigger changes. Under this option, both school buildings would be located at the Mitchell site, either separate from one another or combined under one roof—with the school populations still being kept mostly separate but sharing resources such as the cafeteria, gymnasium, library and auditorium.

If the schools were both located at the Mitchell site on Brookline Street, the Hillside property could be repurposed, potentially used for district offices, as an early childhood center or other needs.

Walter did note that combining both student populations—a total of nearly 900 students—on one property would have an impact on the neighborhood and area traffic patterns and restrict the amount of outdoor space on the site.

Option 3: Hillside, Mitchell, Pollard, Newman and High Rock

This third option would mean changes to the populations at five of the district’s schools. Under this plan, the sixth grade population currently at would be moved to or possibly to a new building on the property. Part of the Newman Elementary School population would move to the High Rock building; Hillside students would join the remaining population at Newman; Mitchell would undergo renovations or additions and keep its population on-site; and the Hillside building would be reused for other purposes. Option 4: Create Grade K-4 Configuration Plus Full-Day Kindergarten

Under the fourth option, fifth grade students from all Needham elementary schools would be pulled out and placed with the sixth grade population currently at High Rock School, freeing up space in other school buildings to add full-day kindergarten programs.

The new 5-6 group could be located at Pollard Middle School or in a new building at the DeFazio site, and the other schools would shift in the same way they would under Option 3—with part of Newman moving to High Rock, Hillside joining Newman, Mitchell keeping its population and the Hillside building used for other purposes.

After listening to the options at their March 7 meeting, School Committee members had a few questions but did not really discuss which they felt was the best. The board is expected to set a workshop meeting in April to go over the options, as well as a few designs prepared by Dore & Whittier, with the town's Permanent Public Building Committee.

Needham Public Schools Superintendent Dan Gutekanst said he hoped to draft a statement of intent over the summer and to possibly file the letter with the MSBA by next fall, then work with the MSBA in late fall or early winter to “talk about a possible plan where they would invite the community into a formal planning process.”

The statement of intent could present multiple options to the MSBA for consideration, School Committee chairwoman Marianne Cooley said.

Whatever the plan is, Cooley noted that school population redistricting was likely in the future for Needham. Though she said redistricting was not something school committees liked to go through, they would do what was needed “if the end result is better for our children.”

Sarah March 08, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I don't understand how moving the 6th graders back to Pollard helps anything. There was a reason that they were moved to High rock.
Kim Marie Nicols March 08, 2012 at 11:52 PM
The model of 6th graders being in their own middle school program at High Rock has been very successful, and alleviated the severe overcrowding at Pollard. With the ever increasing population of Needham students, reintroducing the 6th grade into Pollard's 7th and 8th grade would be impossible for the foreseeable future. However, it is intriguing to consider a new school built on the edge of DeFazio Field close to Pollard that would be for 6th grade, or possibly 5th & 6th grade. The renovation of High Rock was purposely done with the intention of it someday reverting back into an elementary school as our Town's needs changed.

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