Friday, September 21, 2007
The School Building Committee: Helping the school meet its mission, helping the town understand the plan
Some may wonder, as they read of the School Building Committee's (SBC) request for design funds for a new elementary school project, "Why now?" When the school has declining enrollments and the town sees reduced revenue from new home growth, the request may appear to come at an unlikely moment.
Getting the town to understand the need for a new school building to replace Spalding is currently the biggest challenge for the group, SBC member Ingo Szegvari acknowledges. "The biggest hurdle we face is getting public interest in what's going on. The other issue is gaining the public's trust in the school project."
Committee Chair Christy Barbee says the group wants to give the town the chance to vote on the school Master Plan. The plan, completed in the spring of 2006 by HMFH architects, recommends removing the aging Spalding Building and building a new elementary school addition connected to the Corey and Wilkins Buildings, with limited renovations to other school buildings.
Seven volunteers with a mission
The seven-member group of volunteers, with a charge to help the school plan for current and future building needs, reports directly to the Board of Selectmen. School Superintendent Marie Doyle and School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman attend the twice-a-month meetings, though they are not voting members. Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds David Flannery also attends some meetings to advise about facilities. Wendell Sykes, also a member of the School Committee, is their liaison on the Building Committee.
Member Bob Pauplis says the group responds to the school's educational needs and helps to determine how to house the programs within a budget. "We don't say we need World Languages. The school tells us what their needs are and we respond with a technical evaluation." For example, Superintendent Marie Doyle specified more special education offices are needed and the committee determined how much square footage to allocate in building plans.
Chair Christy Barbee, who has served on the committee for the longest span —over seven years and two building studies — says Beth Hambleton inspired her. The former resident served on the Building Committee for many years and helped to oversee the Grant/Link Building construction.
Barbee is a freelance writer and editor. Since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast two years ago, she has also worked with the Citizen Action Team, an Acton volunteer group that collected and distributed supplies for Gulf residents. Barbee organized several collection drives for Katrina relief at the Carlisle School. She is also a board member of Communities for Restorative Justice, a Concord-based organization that offers alternatives to court for youth offenders.
"Very few people understand how demanding being the chair of any committee is," Vice-Chair Wendell Sykes says of the many hours Barbee has put in for the school building project.
The committee has a large number of engineers, including Pauplis, Sykes, Bill Risso, Don Rober and Lee Storrs, who use their training to shed some light on technical problems the school encounters, such as the new wastewater treatment plant. When the system had much higher heating and energy bills than expected last winter, they went to work with Flannery to try to resolve operating inefficiencies and lower costs. Storrs, the newest member, is an engineer with a company that designs and builds wastewater treatment plants.
Rober, Storrs and Szegvari have children who attend the Carlisle School, while the other members have children who have completed nine years of school here from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Szegvari grew up here and attended the school in the 1970s. The Spalding Building used to hold the school cafeteria and stage, and the gym was in the Robbins Building, he recalls. The general building contractor sees the K-8 system as a place where children do not get lost from grade to grade. "Students get to see their old elementary teachers, and the teachers really know the students, and care."
Barbee, Pauplis, Sykes and Risso served on the committee through years of plans for the school's wastewater treatment plant. From finding a location for the plant that would have the least impact on neighbors, to getting it approved by town and state boards and voters, to finally overseeing its construction and costs, the project took nearly a decade to complete.
Master Plan last of three studies
The school has had three building studies this decade. The first, in 2001, looked at building a second school for grades preschool to two on the Banta-Davis Land off Bedford Road, at a time when the school saw rising enrollments. To address questions that arose about adding a second school, a second study was completed in 2003.
After the second study, the Building Committee shelved the second campus proposal and recommended an expansion on the current Carlisle School campus. However, these plans were put on hold due to the poor Massachusetts economy at the time and a state moratorium on funding new school building projects that went into effect four years ago.
"We would have had a new building by now, were it not for former Governor Mitt Romney and Massachusetts School Building Authority reform," Barbee says with some regret. "The building would have cost a lot less if it had been built a few years ago."
The comprehensive Master Plan study last year included a report detailing the condition of each of the school's buildings, an enrollment study and building options in phases over ten years.
Though there is a lull in enrollments right now, there is not a person on the committee who doesn't believe Carlisle will start to grow again in the future. Szegvari says in his neighborhood near Cross Street he sees 17 new homes coming in at Greystone Crossing.
When the economy picks up, Sykes believes the town will again see more home construction because it is a good location for commuting to work. The robotics consultant and 20-plus year resident pointed out, "We have a large amount of undeveloped land for new homes, compared with other communities close to Boston."
Long-term resident Pauplis believes the town has a rural feel to it that adds to its appeal to home buyers, but it is the school that draws many to live here. "What holds Carlisle together as a community, and as a place to locate, is we have an excellent school system. It rivals a lot of private schools."
Consolidating the campus, opening up play space
The SBC recommends building a two-to-three story 60,000-square-foot building at an estimated cost of $28 million. The present campus is fragmented, they say, with Spalding and Corey as stand-alone buildings not connected to the rest of the buildings. Putting up a multi-story building connected to Corey and perhaps the Wilkins Building, and then demolishing Spalding, should open up needed play areas for students during lunch and recess and help consolidate the school. A modern building will boost energy efficiency, points out Bill Risso, and it will improve security at the school.
Don Rober, who also serves on the town's Long-Term Capital Requirements committee, says the school needs a central entrance, describing the route visitors now take from the parking lot up the stairs to the Corey Building, while the main office is in the separate Wilkins Building. The software engineer and former tile distribution business owner thinks the school's exterior could be improved. "If we do a good job with a nice-looking building, it presents the town in a much better fashion. What we have now is getting rundown. It doesn't show the town well."
Pauplis says the group anticipates giving input into the building design, "We don't want to build a big, showy building. We'd like to see a visually appealing building, but not something with a three-story atrium. We're trying to get a cost-effective design, one with low operating costs that will be easy to maintain in the future."
Rober and others on the committee maintain that construction costs have risen steeply in recent years, and the longer the town waits to build, the higher the construction costs.
Modulars not the answer
The idea of modular classrooms has been discussed in the last few years. Some town officials and others in the community have asked the school to consider adding temporary classrooms as a targeted, lower-cost solution. However, the high cost of some modulars, compared with building permanent space, is a solution the group is reluctant to implement. Where to find space for modular classrooms amid the buildings, playground and parking lots is also an issue.
"It's not really that much more in taxes to do it the right way," with new construction, says Bob Pauplis. "There's a much better learning environment with a permanent building."
Good school, aging facilities
Barbee, who has observed the school as a parent and as a former School Committee member, says the school functions well despite its facilities. "I know we have a fine education program, in spite of having aging buildings. But it's difficult for kids who don't have quiet spaces for special education. The middle school science labs look like what I had in high school years ago. In Wilkins, middle school student lockers were moved inside classrooms years ago to make room in the narrow hallways. If students need books they have to wait to get back into their lockers in the classrooms."
The school faculty are "good sports" despite some building conditions, she says. While there are older buildings here, she believes teachers appreciate the high amount of parental and community support for the school, compared to some other school systems.
Barbee believes what Carlisle really needs is a town-wide building and facilities committee to look at all town needs and to help guide decisions. "We need a cohesive approach. The school is a community building," she says, pointing out that the gym is very often in use by outside groups during non-school hours and the town is "maxed out" on space for community programs. "If the school adds functional space the community can use, the town will benefit."
The school can help ensure home property values remain stable and high, Bob Pauplis says, but the challenge remains, "How do we get the funds the school needs, and not break the backs of taxpayers?"
Whether the Selectmen or voters give the project the green light remains to be seen. However it comes out, the building committee members have done their job of advocating for school building renovations, persevering through years of studies and many nights of meetings.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito