Carlisle School Committee sees new plans for Highland


An altered image of the Highland Building shows what it might look like with the front steps removed. (Courtesy photo)

by Karina Coombs

Two members of the Highland Committee presented a schematic design of a redesigned Highland Building at the October 10 meeting of the Carlisle School Committee (CSC). The committee’s presentation emphasized safety and the building’s usage as a community center, and was well received by the CSC.

Highland Committee Chair John Ballantine and member Matt Hamor emphasized that while they had a basic interior and exterior schematic design of the space, the project still had a long way to go in terms of finance, town approval and other specifics.

Building schematic

Ballantine explained that the committee wanted to make the Highland building fully ADA compliant for handicapped-accessibility. While the front of the building would continue to serve as the main entrance, the stairs would be removed for handicapped access with the entry on a lower level. There would also be an elevator accessible by all floors.

An enclosed rear stairwell must be added to replace the fire escape, but Ballantine said it was not an issue with for the Fire Department in terms of emergency access between the building and the school. The rear of the structure would need, however, to utilize non-flammable building materials because of its proximity.

Ballantine and Hamor also discussed the creation of a barrier that would emphasize the separation of the school from the Highland building, but without impeding student access in the event of an emergency or evacuation drill or emergency vehicles. “The administration would need to view more specifics,” said CSC member Bill Fink. “The use of the building is what would guide that.” Superintendent Joan Wickman asked to walk the perimeter of the building using the schematic to compare it to the school’s current evacuation plan.

Parking schematic

Hamor showed a parking design with approximately 24 spaces, one of them handicapped accessible and close to the elevator. He noted that the design had gone through a number of renditions. Hamor also described meeting with Fire Chief and Facilities Manager David Flannery to discuss emergency vehicle access and the ability of the fire cistern to support parking.

“We want parking to be safe for fire access and respect landscape elements [around the building],” he said. The current design would preserve mature trees near the building. “[School Street] is a scenic road so we’re not proposing to cut down any trees along the road or disturb vegetation that provides a slight buffer on the church side.”

“If the building was new what would the number of [required] spots be?” asked CSC member Melissa McMorrow. “We would not make it,” answered Hamor, explaining he did not anticipate much parking during the school day. Event parking would have to spill over to other parts of town and he explained that they would most likely have to be scheduled outside of school hours.

Community use

The 7,500 square foot property could host a variety of activities on all three floors: educational programs, a fitness center, smaller exercise or Yoga rooms and meeting space. The top floor would be for public or private events

and could accommodate up to 150 people. A warming kitchen would also be available.

CSC member Josh Kablotsky asked about the usage of the building during school hours. Ballantine explained that those attending exercise or fitness classes would mostly use the space and those guests would be pre-registered and would need to sign in. He also noted that the building would have one main entrance that everyone would have to go through and that it would be staffed while the building was open. “There is a process, not dissimilar to the library,” said Ballantine. Private events would also be pre-registered and would, as Hamor had said earlier, most likely be held when the school was closed.

Hamor also suggested the creation of a committee to pre-approve the general use of the building in terms of scheduling classes, meetings and events. The committee would make decisions on which types of activities could be held during school hours and which could not.

Fink noted that he would also like an agreement to make sure the school would always be involved in any changes in the building and what services it would provide in the future.

Security concerns

CSC Chair Mary Storrs emphasized that security was her main issue in terms of community use of the building. With the building’s proposed parking area so close to the school, and in such a tight space, Storrs is concerned about both foot and vehicle traffic. “Security is different when you were talking about the building for housing,” said Fink. “[This] proposed use makes security concerns change. I think it’s a great idea.”

In terms of event security, Ballantine suggested the use of the Carlisle Police. “You would naturally have police there [anyway] for over 50 at an event.” Asked Kablotsky, “You would ask anyone having an event there for over 50 to have the police there? If you add a detail [requirement] for an event, that’s going to increase the cost and may preclude someone from renting the facility.” Hamor suggested that the decision to require security at large events might be made by the committee detailing the building’s use.

“Are there any funds to pay someone to come in and assess security [concerns]?” asked McMorrow. Ballantine explained that while there were not any funds currently available for this, it could be addressed in the future if the town approved the project.

While the CSC still had some concerns with logistics and security at the conclusion of the Highland Committee’s presentation, the members appeared positive about the project and its proposed uses. “The town has needed something like this for a long time,” said McMorrow. ∆