The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 14, 2003


Carlisle School expansion delayed Campus best option for future building

After months of reviewing architectural plans and cost estimates, the school building committee recommends adding onto the Carlisle School as the best solution to overcrowding and anticipated enrollment increases on the campus. But the building study plans are being put on hold, for a while at least, due to the state of the Massachusetts and local economy.

The committee does not plan to ask for funds to design a new school building this year. "I don't think it's the right time to ask for design funds for the school and for the wastewater treatment plant," explained chair Paul Morrison about the decision. The group expects to give an informational report on the building study to Town Meeting in May.

The state's economic condition is a key factor influencing the committee's decision to put building plans on hold. The state School Building Assistance program (SBA) announced last month that it was putting a hold on funding new school construction projects due to the state's economy. With the already long waiting list for school building reimbursements and the economy, any state reimbursement is likely to be many years away.

Right study, wrong time

With the architectural firm Symmes Maini & McKee Associates (SMMA) the building committee looked into building at the present campus or adding a second school at Banta-Davis. Morrison said the work done by SMMA to find space on the campus is excellent and will be valuable to the town when the time is right to move forward with the project. He explained that the renovation project now being proposed for Concord-Carlisle Regional High School also influenced the group's decision to hold off on asking the town for funding.

An earlier building study with a different architectural group was completed in June 2001 and recommended the Banta-Davis Land as the best site for a possible second school. Concerned about costs, the 2001 Fall Town Meeting approved $20,000 for the further detailed study of building sites.

"There's a substantial feeling in town to expand on the present campus. There's a strong attachment to having one campus,"" said Morrison, "Costs are also significantly less than on the Banta-Davis land." Building onto the school campus would cost less because a new school at the Banta-Davis site would require its own cafetorium, a combined cafeteria and gymnasium to be built. Snow plowing and other maintenance costs would also be higher with a separate school. "With the town and state having fiscal cutbacks, right now it is most feasible to expand on the school site," Morrison said.

The building committee previously thought the Carlisle Castle playground site was off-limits for any school expansion. However, the Castle, built in 1988, is nearing the end of its useful life and safety standards have changed since it was built. The site frees up a critical piece of school property on which to build. In lieu of the Castle, the committee specified that additional outdoor play space be a priority at the school.

Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson said that if enough outdoor play areas can be designed into the school site, she backs retaining the current K-8 grade school system all on one campus. Building on the campus will give the school "a few years of breathing space" said member Christy Barbee. The committee will recommend that Banta-Davis should be reserved for a second school site as needed in the future.

School's capacity changed

Previously the school administration was told by the SBA that the Carlisle School campus would reach its maximum capacity at 900 students, a number believed to be the point when a new school was required. However, in discussions with members of the SBA in their visit to Carlisle last spring, Morrison says the state had "a change of attitude" and the school can in fact expand on the present campus. Amid fiscal cutbacks in the state budget, the SBA, which provides significant reimbursement funds to school districts for building projects, now favors renovation projects.

Currently there are about 850 students at the school. In ten-year projections for school enrollments, 1,200 students are anticipated at the Carlisle School according to the superintendent: 825 in preschool to grade 5, and 375 in grades 6-8. 125 students are projected in each grade level K-8, with fewer students in the preschool classes. She said the school's 1,200-student figure is distilled out of a combination of data from town enrollment studies. Projections of 125 students per grade within ten years are realistic, she said, "It's been a slow, upward progression. The question is how soon will we get there?"

This year there are 112 students in grade three, and many grades have student numbers in the upper 90s. Fox-Melanson said many factors will affect future enrollments including the local economy, affordable housing projects, and possible state regulation changes for septic system setbacks, which could allow higher housing density. "We need to project forward. Any building project takes two to three years to complete, once it's approved. We don't want to open a new building and have it already be filled to capacity."

Wastewater plant main focus

Morrison confirmed that the main focus of the school building committee now is seeing that the school wastewater treatment plant system is built. The issue of where the proposed school expansion would take place needed to be cleared up so that the committee could make a decision on where to locate the wastewater plant needed for the school, he said. Also he said if the wastewater plant issue is not resolved the state may not approve funds for any building project in the future. The committee plans to ask the town for construction funds for the wastewater plant at a fall town meeting.

The present school septic system has been in technical failure under state Title 5 regulations since 1996 and is pumped out monthly. The septic system is not in physical failure, however. The school now needs a wastewater treatment facility rather than a standard septic system due to increased enrollments at the school. The school building committee plans to replace the current failed septic system with a new wastewater treatment facility designed to meet the needs of the existing school, a possible future expansion of the school, as well as a possible second school.

The building committee received permission to expend funds for the wastewater facility design and permitting costs at the fall 2001 special town meeting. The engineering firm GZA has since determined the best location for the leaching field for the system is at the back of the lower Banta-Davis playing field. The committee is now trying to determine the best location for the wastewater treatment building. The design firm HTA will design the field and wastewater treatment building and apply for a ground water discharge permit with the state Department of Environmental Protection. The project will then be put out to bid for the construction phase.

Building in phases

When the economy does improve and the building committee decides to move forward with the expansion project again, the potential construction project would be broken into phases. The phases proposed in the study would spread out costs over several years and reduce the impact on school operations.

In phase one, a new Early Education Center for preschool to Grade 2 is proposed for the present site of the Castle playground. In phase two, the fifty-year old Spalding building, which now houses the kindergarten classes through grade two, would be demolished to make way for an expansion of the current play plaza, a new expanded parking lot off School Street, and a possible new library/media center for the school. In phase three, the present Robbins, Wilkins, and Grant buildings housing the upper elementary and middle school students would be renovated, with some expansion. In phase four the Corey Building, which houses the gymnasium, cafeteria, music and art rooms, would be renovated and expanded.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito