The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 9, 2005


School considers expansion, fate of Highland

Conceptual drawings for expansion of the Carlisle School campus, unveiled last week by the School Building Committee (SBC), show a new building on the current play plaza. That building will provide a central entrance to the campus and more classroom space. A continuing issue is what to do with the Highland Building. While many love the historical school building, it requires extensive renovations for modern school use.
New building on current plaza

Of several drawings put up on easels by architects, the School Building Committee preferred one that showed a building designed to house the main school office and classrooms. The new building would connect the Corey and Wilkins Buildings, helping to unify the multi-building campus. Instead of the concrete plaza, students would have a new play area located roughly where the Spalding Building and the Castle playground now stand.

At this point in the master plan, the building drawings are conceptual, and even the size of the building is yet to be determined.

Current needs

For HMFH architect Lori Cowles the study is a chance to address some existing problems with the campus, particularly the lack of a central entry point for the school. A main entrance in a central building would give the school more control over security, while a building that connects existing buildings would help to improve circulation within the campus, said Barbee.

With several building projects over the decades, the campus has evolved into a series of buildings, said Cowles. The Spalding Building which holds the kindergarten and grade 1 classes, and Corey which holds the cafeteria, auditorium, gymnasiums, art and music, remain separate and unconnected to other buildings. The last project was completed almost ten years ago when a second level was added to the Grant/Link building, housing the new pre-kindergarten class, grades four and five, and the the office of the special education director.

The architects showed current square footage in the school by grade and by department, and projected increases for departments that now operate with inadequate space, including special education, music, art, and the gym. New science classrooms, a technology and engineering room, and a computer lab are also priorities for Superintendent Marie Doyle and the building committee.

The SBC plans to involve parents and others in the community by inviting them to meetings starting in January. Michael Fitzgerald, a member of the Carlisle School Committee and the CCHS Feasibility Study group, cautioned the SBC to prioritize the school's needs for space over other community needs that may surface during meetings. "We need to focus on academic structure and school use first. Then, if other groups can use the school space, fine."

Highland Building

The 1908 wooden Highland Building on School Street served as the Carlisle School in the first half of the twentieth century, with grades one through eight housed in several large multi-grade classrooms. The school used Highland continuously until 1988 when grades four and five, the last to use the space, were finally moved into the lower level of the new Grant/Link Building.

The 6,000-square-foot building has been used as artist studio space since the mid-1990s, leased by Emerson Umbrella of Concord, a private, non-profit artist's organization. In its lease Emerson Umbrella is responsible for all heating and electricity bills, as well as insurance on the building, according to Building and Grounds Supervisor David Flannery. The Umbrella in turn charges artists rent for their studio space. The building is not being maintained as it was in the past, says Flannery, and the school has concerns about its upkeep.

Architect George Metzger said that in its current state the building is not useful for classrooms. To be acceptable for any school use, even for administrative offices, it needs to be brought up to code, including installing an outside access ramp. The committee estimates Highland needs extensive work and its rehabilitation would entail significant expense. They asked the architects to complete a formal estimate of how much renovations will cost.

The SBC planned to recommend to the school committee this week that Highland is not useable for school purposes. Although they like the old building, many would rather see it removed than spend project dollars on renovation of a building with limited use.

Not comfortable with deciding the fate of the building alone, they plan to put the renovations estimate before voters at the next Annual Town Meeting. "It's time to decide if the town wants to spend money to save Highland," says Barbee.

Previous studies

The current master plan, the third building study since 2000, gives the school a chance to revisit how it can be expanded on the hilltop campus. Although enrollments could decline in the next several years due to an aging town population, as a recent enrollment report forecasts, the school says it is overcrowded now and has inadequate space for its current programs. The master plan uses the current population of 800 students as its enrollment assumption.

The first study 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 considered a new campus at Banta-Davis, as the state School Building Assistance Bureau felt that the existing campus was too crowded and could not be expanded beyond 900 students.

A second study was approved by voters for a further review of building sites to accommodate increasing enrollments at that time. The second study, completed in early 2003 by SMMA architects, looked at expanding on the existing campus, in response to the strong desire to retain the small-town atmosphere of one school in Carlisle, as well as the lower operating costs of a single campus.

State reimbursement to resume

While the SBC supported expansion on the current campus, plans were put on hold due to the slowing economy and a state moratorium on funding new school building projects which went into effect in 2003. The funding moratorium is expected to be lifted in 2007 when state reimbursements for school buliding projects may resume.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito