The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 4, 2005


Carlisle School space needs back on front burner

The Carlisle School is dramatically overcrowded and at times the buildings seem like a "1988 Hyundai," Superintendent Marie Doyle told town boards gathered to hear about the school's space needs.

The small hallways and classrooms are already burgeoning with students, and there are two large classes with over 100 students in the fourth and fifth grades who will be moving through the middle school in the next few years, said Doyle. "When the population grows in the town, the school will have a real problem."

The Carlisle School Committee and School Building Committee invited the Selectmen, Finance Committee and the Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee to a meeting held just before February vacation to make the groups aware of the school's needs.

Doyle showed slides of classrooms and teacher's areas and summarized the current situation. The elementary music and art classrooms, both in the Corey Building with the school auditorium, occupy spaces intended for other uses, she said. As the seventh-grade play goes on each year, stage props and furniture take up much of the art room. The room has two functions because it was originally designed as the stage storage area.

The elementary music room was also designed for a different purpose as a small music practice area and measures a little over 300 square feet. The school auditorium cannot hold all grades at once for an assembly or performance.

Doyle highlighted teacher needs as well, showing the literacy and technology specialists sharing offices that are doubled or tripled up. The teachers' lunchrooms are too small and cannot hold all 73 teachers employed by the school during their lunch break, she said.

The art room. (Photo by Marie Doyle)

New study needed

The School Committee and School Building Committee believe the school campus needs a new master plan and plan to ask for funding at Spring Town Meeting. Preliminary estimates are that the new study will cost somewhere between $40,000 to $100,000 to complete, said School Business Manager Steve Moore.

There have been two previous school building expansion studies since 2000. One completed in June 2001 by HKT Architects looked at building a second school for grades preschool to two on the Banta-Davis Land off Bedford Road. To address questions that arose about adding a second school, $20,000 was approved at a special fall 2001 Town Meeting for a further study of building sites to accommodate increasing enrollments.

In the second study, completed in early 2003 by SMMA Architects, the Building Committee did a more complete assessment of possible building sites, including expanding on the existing campus. The committee addressed what it perceived then as the strong attachment of many to keeping a small-town atmosphere in Carlisle by having just one school campus. The study concluded that operating costs would be lower with one campus.

The building committee then recommended adding onto the Carlisle School as the best solution to overcrowding on the campus, but building plans were put on hold due to the poor Massachusetts and local economy in 2003. The group did not want to ask the town for funds for both the school wastewater plant and a major school expansion in a weak economy.

Replacing the school's septic system with a wastewater treatment plant has been the main priority for the committee since then. The septic system is in technical failure under the state's Title V regulations, although it is not in physical failure.

Modular classrooms possible

The proposed new study will look at possibly adding modular classrooms to offload immediate needs for more space. "The study will show if modular classrooms are the way to go," said Moore. Modular classrooms are not temporary and can last 20-30 years, said building committee Chair Christy Barbee. "They look like buildings, not like trailers. People usually keep them," agreed Wendell Sykes of the school committee.

The study will also take a fresh look at enrollment projections, said Moore. There are 811 students this year, basically level with last year's enrollment of 807.

The school had grown to a high of 829 students in 2001 before the high tech recession, in part, prompted some in town to seek jobs in other areas. The school building committee expects enrollment to remain level over the next two to four years.

Though enrollment projections can and will be debated, if the economy turns around and a housing development such as a 40B project with children is approved, the building committee believes there will be an increase in students. "No one has a way of proving that future growth will occur," said Barbee, "but it's our responsibility to be prepared for it."

Enrollments for the last several years slightly exceed projections in the often referred-to "Growing Pains" study written by Selectman John Ballantine and former FinCom members Nancy Pierce and Beth Hambleton in 1999, as shown in Table 1.

"This generation needs to be prepared to meet the challenges," of a changing global and technological society, said Doyle. "The Carlisle School can take a leadership position [to help prepare its students]."

She would like to see foreign languages expanded and taught in the elementary grades as well as in middle school. Currently Spanish and French are taught in middle school. Adding Mandarin Chinese as a language offering is also one of her goals. The Superintendent also recommends adding more computer and engineering classes for middle school students.

Community input needed

The school and building committees want to gain input from parents and the community in a series of open meetings over the next few months. The school needs the support of the community on space issues at the school, said Doyle.

Members of the Long-Term Capital committee cautioned that any program changes at the school first need approval by the community. Town Finance Director Larry Barton said there needs to be some guidance on the financial size of the project. Referring to previous plans for renovating Concord-Carlisle High School when project cost estimates were in the tens of millions of dollars, Barton said voters perceived the building plans had too few financial guidelines. "We need to educate the community on the financial size of the project [for the Carlisle School]," he said. One of the goals of the proposed new master plan will be to look at ways to balance any Carlisle School building project with the high school's needs and its timeline for renovations or new buildings, said Moore.

The school buildings also serve as valuable space for community events after hours, many pointed out. Groups including the Savoyard theater group, the Cub Scouts, and sports and recreation groups all hold activities on the campus once the school day is ended.

Carlisle School Enrollments
  2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Actual 790 829 820 807 811
Forecast (1999) 754 777 776 779 796


Immediate space needs

· Additional middle school room

· Two music classrooms

· One art classroom

· Additional special education space

· Technology/engineering lab

· Computer lab

· Literacy lab

· Conference rooms, office space

Source: "Eyes on the Future," Marie Doyle, February 17, 2005

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito