The highlight of Monday night’s three-hour Special Town Meeting was the passage of Article 1 to approve a proposal for a new building to replace Elmwood Elementary School.
The Elementary School Building Committee has considered for the past two years whether to replace the current Elmwood School, which was built in the 1960s, or renovate it. It was deemed more cost-effective to replace the school with a modern building on Hayden Rowe Street to meet the needs of the expanding student population. As discussions progressed, the building’s proposed size was scaled back, and less costly construction materials were considered.
The considerable amount of funding reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and other entities was a factor that ultimately led voters to approve the new building and the property tax increase that goes along with it.
ESBC member Tiffany Ostrander was one of several residents who spoke in favor of the article. As a parent and a volunteer, she said the proposal showed “a commitment to financial forethought.” Approval capitalized on available funding reimbursements that may not exist in the future.
“I stand in support of this project,” added School Committee chair Nancy Cavanaugh, “because I think the cost of not doing something at this point with the $61 million from the MSBA is going to cost us more as taxpayers without adding the educational benefits that this school will provide.”
The new building, she continued, would allow for increased capacity at other school buildings that have seen enrollments spike over the past several years.
Resident Ken Weismantel noted that the new school building would be “a big investment for the taxpayers.” He asked Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh what metric she would use to measure the building’s success. He also stressed the town’s current budgetary constraints.
The superintendent noted that Hopkins School currently educates 683 students. To create 16 fifth-grade classrooms, two science labs were modified for classroom and specialized instruction space. Additionally, part of the library is used for the instruction of students whose primary language is not English because of scarce classroom space.
“One metric for me will be that every kid is in a classroom with an appropriate size,” she said, “and that that physical plan will match the learning for those children in that classroom. That is super important to me.
“We can’t be putting up makeshift walls and asking kids to read and do mathematics in one-third of a library where they can hear the instruction on the other side of the wall,” the superintendent stressed. She noted that because of the number of students there, lunch begins at 10:30 a.m. and continues to be served at 1:15 p.m. because the cafeteria can only hold 200 students at a time.
Despite the building constraints, the schools produce students with stellar test scores, she added. Her hope is that their academic success will flourish in larger buildings because worries about space and expanding class sizes will be eliminated.
Resident Anne Mattina said new housing developments currently in the works will lead to more families moving to Hopkinton with children. This will strain the district’s capacity to educate them if the infrastructure does not keep up with the demand.
Matt Kizner, chair of the Capital Improvement Committee, called the increase in taxes that the proposal requires “absolutely terrifying.” Yet he urged residents to support the article because investing in the school reflects the town’s priorities and commitment to its youth.