The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 20, 2005


Town Meeting
School study to look at overcrowding, aging buildings
The Carlisle School is overcrowded now without adding any new students and it operates with a shortage of class space, says Superintendent Marie Doyle, who will request funds for a Master Plan at Town Meeting Monday night. The study will allow the school system to look into its immediate and long-term space needs and create a plan that could include modular classrooms, renovations to existing buildings, or possible new construction. The school is requesting $50,000 for the study.

The school has 825 students this year in K-8 plus one pre-kindergarten classroom. Over the next few years, the school expects a population bulge in the middle school, and needs more middle school classrooms. The fifth grade class has 112 students, the largest at the school, and there will be other large classes moving through the middle school in the coming years.

The new study will survey the school buildings and give an analysis of the costs of either renovating or replacing them, says School Building Committee member Wendell Sykes. If a building is renovated it must be brought up to code, including the Americans with Disabilities Act code. Consequently, renovation can be expensive.

Overcrowding today

The Master Plan will also address ways to alleviate current overcrowding in the school, possibly by adding modular classrooms. Sykes said there are two types of modular units, trailer versions and pre-fabricated buildings that are assembled on site.

The school needs another one or two classrooms for foreign languages, said Doyle. French and Spanish, which students start in the fifth grade, now share a classroom. Also the school does not have an adequate art room and it needs three music classrooms, according to the School Committee report. When classroom space was needed, art and music programs were squeezed into other spaces. Elementary art is now in a room originally built as the stage storage area; the elementary music room was originally built as a small music practice area.

Finally, the plan will look at ways to make the school more available as a community resource for recreation and education.

Because the $50,000 requested for the study is above the Proposition 2-1/2 tax levy limit for the school's budget, it is a capital exclusion requiring a vote at the ballot box as well. If voters approve the study at Town Meeting and at the ballot box, the School Building Committee will put out a request for proposals to architectural firms this summer and the study would begin by September. the Master Plan will take about a year to complete.

Enrollment and town growth

A school population study to address the often-conflicting projections of future town and student growth is planned in conjunction with the building study. The study will provide enrollment projections for the next five to ten years.

"Growing Pains," a 1999 study prepared by Selectman John Ballantine and former FinCom members Nancy Pierce and Beth Hambleton, underestimated school enrollments. The study used the cohort survival method, a standard method used to project school enrollments, and historical data on town birth rates over the previous ten years, to estimate how many children will enter kindergarten.

However, the cohort survival method does not always work in a small town, said School Business Manager Steve Moore, because the sample size is so small that small population changes can yield big changes in the projections. Also, Moore said, Carlisle is not a starter home community and many students actually enter the school in grades three to eight, rather than in kindergarten.

The cohort survival method is useful, but predicting future enrollments must take into account other variables, such as the number of new families with school-age children who move into town and fluctuations in the town birth rate. Carlisle often has large variations in the number of students in each grade from year to year.

No one knows what the impact of any large home developments, or affordable housing projects will be on the school in the future. Carlisle's high MCAS test scores, rural appearance and location 20 miles from Boston and close to Routes 3, 128, and 495 make it a desirable community for many families seeking a home in the area.

"The school population is going to go up because the town population is going up. The question is how soon, and how many students?" summarizes Moore.

Special ed space needs

Changes in education have also put pressure on the school for space. With the increase in special education mandated in part by the state Education Reform Act of 1993, many students who previously were sent outside the school system for services are now educated at the school system.

The school buildings, built before special education laws, are not designed to meet the needs of special educators who use small areas to work one-on-one with students in a quiet setting. Doyle said some educators use the hallway if they cannot find private space to work with students. The school also requires more special needs support staff now including various teacher's aides, where in the past a traditional classroom had only one teacher.

The CASE (Concord Area Special Education) Collaborative classroom at the school is dedicated as a special education class. It has students with various disabilities from area towns and Carlisle shares its space with the other towns to help reduce education costs.

Town finance boards support study

Both the Finance and the Long-Term Capital Requirements Committees recommend the Master Plan because it will give more details on the cost and type of buildings than the previous feasibility studies done by the school. "The school has the right to do the study and they need to do it," said FinCom Chair David Trask, because past studies were not detailed enough for a building plan.

"The school needs a clear and detailed capital plan for building renovations for the future," said Trask, who agrees the school is overcrowded. But by planning ahead, the school can phase their building project with the high school's building project and help to spread out the debt over several years. This will help to reduce the tax impact on current taxpayers so they don't bear an unfair burden. By extending a building project's impact over the years ahead, taxpayers whose children will use the new buildings in the future will share the tax impact, he explained

The high school is now conducting its own building feasibility study. "We need a long-term plan that is educationally and fiscally responsible. We will monitor building plans for Concord-Carlisle High School closely, so we do not overburden the community at one time," said Doyle.

An eye on state reimbursement

Though new school building projects are on hold with the Massachusetts School Building Authority until 2007, the school says that with a solid master plan they have the best chance of receiving the maximum reimbursement from the state for a new building project. The state highly recommends that schools have a master plan that looks at both current and long-term needs of the school, said Doyle who recently attended a superintendents' meeting with the new director of the MSBA.

According to Doyle, the top priorities the state looks at for building reimbursements are school overcrowding, unsafe health conditions (such as the mold found previously in the Spalding building), how well the school has been maintained, and any innovations the school has implemented to make a project more cost-effective.

Past school expansion studies

Two previous school building expansion studies completed since 2000 looked at ways to expand the school. The first 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. The school looked into a new building at Banta-Davis because in discussions with the previous state School Building Assistance Bureau the building committee was told the existing campus was too crowded and could not be expanded beyond 900 students.

To address questions that arose from many in the town about adding a second school, a feasibility study was approved at a Special Town Meeting in the fall of 2001 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. It addressed what it perceived as the strong attachment of many to keeping a small-town atmosphere in Carlisle by having just one school campus, and the lower operating costs of having one campus.

The building committee then recommended adding onto the Carlisle School as the best solution to overcrowding. But plans were put on hold due to the poor Massachusetts and local economy in 2003 and the state moratorium on funding new school building projects that went into effect that year.

Many buildings 40-50 years old

Schools take a lot of wear-and-tear over the years and Carlisle's buildings, like many others in the state, are showing their age. The Spalding building that holds the kindergarten and grade one classes is considered to be in the worst condition. The free-standing circular building near the Castle playground was built in the 1950s. "It's not a quality constructed building," said School Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds David Flannery. "The heating system needs replacement. There were chronic problems with it this past winter and we kept repairing it. It has an aging electrical system and roof. We just try to keep the building presentable and safe."

After managing the school buildings for over thirty years, Flannery sees the biggest physical shortcomings of the school as the lack of adequate outdoor play areas for students during recess and lunch, and the shortage of convenient, accessible parking on the hillside campus. Finding adequate outdoor play space on the hilltop campus was looked at in the previous study and it will be addressed again in new plans. The concrete plaza, the main play area, is often packed with children at lunch. It becomes the only play area in winter when snow closes the Castle playground.

After school, the buildings are used on a continuous basis. The gym is used by recreation and sports programs and the school auditorium is used for music practices, recitals, and other community events. Flannery sees the daily demands on the school and the need for space for outside meetings, recreation, and social functions. "The school is used by the whole community," he said. He believes seniors and others would use the cafeteria for functions if it were more accessible from the parking lot without having to climb several flights of stairs.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito