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Committee studies enrollment, conditions at Elmwood

by | May 5, 2022 | Education, Featured: Education

Community members in Hopkinton should be on the lookout in late summer/early fall for public forums where they’ll be asked for input on what a new elementary school should look like to replace Elmwood School. An option of renovations or changes to grade configurations and more will also be put out for discussion and debate.

“We don’t want any surprises,” said Jon Graziano, chair of the Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC). “We want to bring everyone along with us and give people their say. … It’s going to be a proactive, engaging process.”

Last spring at Annual Town Meeting, voters approved formation of the building group and funding of $1 million (from the Legacy Farms host community agreement) to conduct a feasibility study to get the town in the pipeline for state funding.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) accepted the project into its feasibility period last December.

Although Town Meeting’s support for funding was an “important signal” that voters conceptually approved of studying the issue, it in no way commits the town to acceptance of the full project, Graziano said.

He explained that the existing Elmwood School was built in 1965, and although some updates have been done since then, “space and quality wise, it is inadequate.”

Elmwood, which serves Grades 2-3, currently has around 600-650 students, he said, although that number is expected to grow to 774 in 10 years. District-wide, especially at the younger grades, the enrollment has experienced rapid growth.

In addition to infrastructure problems like outdated HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) and electrical systems, Elmwood School also has a lack of common spaces which makes accommodating lunch shifts at appropriate times difficult, he said.

The small play area outside also places limitations on what children can do.

Also, Graziano said that Elmwood is a “geographic outlier” in that it is the only school not to be part of the “campus” on Hayden Rowe Street.

Transportation challenges are another issue with the current location at 14 Elm Street, he said.

Elmwood School has expanded a few times with the addition of two modular classrooms and, more recently, four more, but the extra spaces are not enough, according to Graziano.

Since members started meeting monthly this year, the ESBC took its first step by hiring Compass Project Management to help with the process. The board’s primary business at its next meeting on May 9 will be to finalize the bid to engage a design firm.

The feasibility studies to take place include looking at if renovations would prove adequate to address the needs, exploring the option of whether Grades 2-3 versus adding fourth-graders would work better, and determining how many classrooms and common spaces are required to handle the projected student population and corresponding educational programs for a new school.

“The district has an overall space problem it’s trying to solve long-term,” Graziano said. “Growth continues to be a challenge.”

He said that the important role of non-voting members like Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh, Principal Anne Carver, Schools Director of Finance Susan Rothermich and Schools Director of Facilities Tim Persson cannot be emphasized enough.

While several members of the building committee have experience with architecture, construction, engineering and the like, the administrators will be instrumental in putting forth the educational components that are necessary to “create a school we all want for our students,” Graziano said.

The other members of the building committee include Mike Shepard, Tiffany Ostrander, Jagrut Jathal, Brendan Tedstone, Lya Batlle-Rafferty, Bill Flannery and Norman Khumalo.

The board will come back to Town Meeting for project funding either in late 2023 or early 2024. If approved, it would likely take another three years before the doors could open to a new or improved facility, depending on the option chosen.

A former School Committee member, Graziano previously served on the Marathon School Building Committee and felt he could add his knowledge of the MSBA process to the board.

Plus, he said, the school district was great to his now older children and he likes giving back to the town.