Friday, January 27, 2006
Carlisle School hears feedback on building plans
There was a good turnout for last week's community meetings on the school master plan as parents, town officials, and residents showed up to see the plans firsthand. The Carlisle School may request design funds for its building project at a Special Fall Town Meeting this year, but no decision has yet been made.
Superintendent Marie Doyle explained some of the school's needs. Despite the recent enrollment report, she said the school still needs classrooms. Special education teachers sometimes work one-on-one with students in the hall and the department needs more small work areas. The school literacy specialist and the math specialist, who work with teachers to assist students, also need workspace, she pointed out, and Spanish, French, and Chinese language teachers share a classroom. The elementary art room is poorly ventilated, and elementary music is held in a small practice room less than half the size it should be, Doyle said.
The NESDEC enrollment report, part of the master plan, showed the Carlisle School population dropping over the next
five to ten years based on the current birth rate and an older town population. Many believe, however, that the projected drop in the school's enrollment would be offset by any affordable housing projects that are approved and constructed over the next decade. Building Committee member Wendell Sykes cautioned, "A 40B housing project could add a lot of students within five years."
HMFH architect Lori Cowles put up three easels in the school cafeteria, showing plans now being considered by the School Building Committee. At the current planning stage, conceptual drawings were shown with no cost estimates.The three options are:
• A new multi-story building located in the main parking lot next to the Corey Building.
• A new classroom and office building on the plaza as a central entry building, connecting Corey with the rest of the school. The one-story Wilkins Building would be removed and replaced by a new two-story building.
• A new structure connecting the Robbins, Wilkins and Corey Buildings, with Wilkins remaining a one-story building.
The last two options require renovating the older buildings. The School Building Committee prefers the first option of constructing a new building in the main parking lot. Architects came up with the new option after hearing the committee was concerned about high renovation costs.
Recently the SBC considered constructing a new building built to modern standards rather than renovating some of the older buildings on the campus such as Wilkins, built in 1963, and Robbins, built in 1969. The SBC has no plans to renovate the 1956 Spalding Building that now holds the kindergarten and first-grade classes. Spalding is considered to be in the worst condition, and it would be demolished after a new building is completed.
Cowles told the audience that any building project would be done in phases, spreading costs out over time. She pointed out that though some of the older school buildings were built properly at the time, they were constructed, building codes have since changed. When renovation costs on a school building exceed 30% of its value, she said, the building must be brought up to all current Massachusetts school- building and handicap-accessibility codes.
Parent Debbie Bentley said she felt the present multi-building campus is a poor facility, asking, "Why pay to renovate derelict buildings?" Zoning Board of Appeals chair Cindy Nock, who previously served on the School Committee, said she preferred the multi-story building in the main parking lot. "It's the most efficient building and the least disruptive to children and the school."
A parent asked for costs of the three options shown. Cowles explained that square-foot costs are typically calculated later in the design process. Building Committee chair Christy Barbee said after the meeting that the SBC has now requested HMFH to provide ballpark estimates for the three options, as well as cost estimates for adding four modular classrooms.
The school is considering adding modular units to provide immediate space for elementary music, art, world languages, and other programs that are currently squeezed into tight spaces. Selectman Doug Stevenson said he had concerns about adding modular units. "As a taxpayer and parent, I prefer a building plan rather than investing in temporary (modular) space."
The school is also considering renovating an unfinished space in the lower level of the Corey Building. A "mistake" room was created when Corey was built in 1988 and a contractor blasted in the wrong location. The space was walled in by the contractor and is now used for storage space. If the school decides to renovate the room, up to 1,600 feet of classroom space could be added within a relatively short time. The SBC has put a placeholder on the Warrant for the Spring Town Meeting for the possibility of modular classrooms and/or renovating the storage basement space in Corey for immediate use.
Highland renovation costs
The SBC recently voted that Highland is not a viable school building. Though the school used the 1908 building up until 1988, it can no longer be used for students or school administration without spending major funds to renovate and bring it up to current code requirements. A renovation estimate from the architects is around $2 million. (See What is the condition of Highland, on page 4)
School Building Committee chair Christy Barbee said after the meeting that she's not against the Highland Building. "The school building committee is not trying to tell the town what to do about Highland. The town needs to decide what to do with the building." Rather than spend money on renovating Highland, she says the school first needs to focus on putting project funds into serving the best interests of students.
State reimbursement restricted
A front-page article in last week's Sunday Boston Globe highlighted the continued financial restraints on school building projects across the state. The new Massachusetts School Building Authority, formed after Governor Romney took office, began a new era for school districts which no longer can count on the state to pick up building costs without question.
Nothing is definite anymore when it comes to state reimbursements for school buildings. As more school districts scramble to renovate or replace older, often poorly constructed buildings put up to accommodate the baby boom generation in the 1960s and '70s, the demand for limited state funds will increase.
"The state treasurer knows the floodgates are about to open when the MSBA lifts its moratorium and starts to add new projects (in mid-2007)," said Barbee. "There's a limited amount of money available and there have to be some parameters. The town may have to support the building costs for a time, without reimbursement from the state."
The state plans to add new projects based on conditions of severe overcrowding or replacing buildings that are structurally unsound. "It makes sense that schools with the worst conditions would be approved first," Barbee said, and no one can predict where Carlisle will fit on a new project-reimbursement list. "Especially," she said with irony, "since the school has done such a good job of patching and maintaining its aging buildings."
At the meeting Marie Doyle also admitted the chances of Carlisle's getting state funding "are not too good" in the first few years after the moratorium lifts. "There's no guarantee, but we have to have the pieces in place. The town has a responsibility for both the Carlisle school and for Concord-Carlisle High School." Doyle emphasized the need to phase any Carlisle building project with the one being proposed for the high school.
© 2006 The