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Elmwood forum offers details on school replacement project

by | Sep 19, 2022 | Education, Featured: Education

About 18 participants joined an online kickoff meeting Monday night to learn more about the process going forward for the Elmwood School replacement project.

In addition to introducing the key players from Vertex and Perkins Eastman, who will plan and design the project if it gets funded, Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh highlighted a number of reasons for the undertaking at this time.

She pointed out that the district’s statement of interest approval by the Massachusetts School Building Authority in 2020 followed a number of other unsuccessful attempts between 2008 and 2019.

Cavanaugh explained that Elmwood School has long had two modular classrooms with another four recently added and does not have the space to accommodate more.

Other issues prompting the need for a new building include overcrowding, asbestos materials, parking restrictions, technical limitations, lack of office and play area spaces, electrical shortcomings and more.

The school, built in 1964 to accommodate 520 students, is not sufficient for estimated enrollment of 675 students by the 2027-28 school year, she said.

If successful, the project will take two years to design, two years for construction and a half-year for state/town approvals.

Project Director Jeff D’Amico of Vertex (formerly Compass) noted that most key decisions are made within the first six months. He added that the public would have many opportunities to participate and provide input. Grade configurations will be discussed before the School Committee three times in January, for example.

“At the heart of the entire design of the school” will be its educational programming, said Robert Bell, a principal at Perkins Eastman.

He spoke about the formation of a “visioning” team comprised of a cross section of community members. He noted that there would be a signup button on the project website at elmwoodproject.com.

Manuel Cordero from Civic, which will facilitate the vision portion of the process, said the project does not just involve thinking about repairs and conditions but also about how they will be inhabited to learn.

He described how schools were built in a different age to mimic the workplace, largely in manufacturing — with students lined up in rows — similar to how they worked in factories.

Cordero said that work offices look “drastically different” these days, and the schools must prepare students for the economy they are stepping into, recognizing that it will fluctuate.

Beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, 21st century teaching and learning includes innovation, empathy, lifelong learning, leadership and social emotional wellness, key concepts extracted from the district’s strategic plan, Cordero added.

Interactive polls were conducted during the session with those present identifying “addressing overcrowding,” as the top reason for the project.

The top cited anticipated challenge was cost/funding, followed by traffic considerations.

In response to a question, Cavanaugh noted that Hopkins School also is affected by overcrowding and also had four modulars recently added. She said to add classroom space, possible steps include creating classrooms in the library and dismantling art rooms.

While the Elmwood project proceeds, work at Hopkins will run concurrently, she said.

Elmwood School Building Committee Chair John Graziano noted that he and some other members previously served on the building committee for the Marathon School project. He said they could apply “lessons learned” to this project.

Bell also talked about creating a “net zero,” building whereby costs upfront are later offset by savings from energy efficiency. He said Perkins Eastman had experience in this area, having designed 20 buildings of this type.

Additional forums will be held Oct. 4, Nov. 2, Dec. 7 and Jan. 24. More information about the topics can be found on the school and project websites.

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