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School Committee reviews expansion needs at Hopkins School

by | May 12, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

Town Meeting recently approved an article asking to borrow $800,000 for a feasibility study for the proposed expansion of Hopkins School. That debt exclusion request will appear as a ballot question at the election on May 15. On Thursday, the School Committee discussed the reasons prompting this project request.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said the $800,000 would fund a feasibility study through construction documents only. The impact on taxes for an average Hopkinton household would be $9, she said.

Hopkins School was built for an enrollment of 628 students. The current student population is 640, and the projected enrollment is 802. Cavanaugh said it is necessary to understand that a changing student population means changes to space considerations. More children having special needs, speaking another first language, needing small group instruction, etc., all impact space, for example.

Currently, offices have been converted into instructional spaces for small groups. Four modular classrooms already have been added to the building. But those modulars do not address how to accommodate more students in the gym, cafeteria and other common areas.

School Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty added that “key life comfort items like restrooms” would have to be added as well.

An expansion project also would improve traffic and increase parking. Cavanaugh said.

One future possibility is to relocate four modular classrooms from the existing Elmwood School. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) recently moved a proposed new Elmwood School project into the schematic design phase.

The superintendent said some Town Meeting members questioned why the former Center School Is not used. She noted that when Marathon School was built and received funding from the MSBA, the Center School was deemed, as a legal stipulation, “no longer viable” as a school for Grades K-12.

Therefore, “MSBA was not expecting a bait and switch,” Cavanaugh said, “providing $25 million for Marathon” only to have the district turn around and return to Center School after receiving the money.

Additionally, Center School is not viable because it would require the replacement of classroom finishes, HVAC mechanicals, domestic water system, plumbing fixtures and the electrical system, she said.

Also, the second floor is not handicapped accessible, fire protection would need to be replaced and expanded and the sanitary waste and vent piping most likely would need full replacement, Cavanaugh said.

School Committee chair Nancy Cavanaugh noted asbestos is another issue. She added that the town’s Permanent Building Committee would be talking about possible future uses for Center School at an upcoming meeting.

Administrator search timeline accepted

In other business, the superintendent wished Director of Student Services Karen Zaleski well as she leaves the district to become interim superintendent in Weston.

Cavanaugh noted the School Committee ultimately is charged with hiring a replacement.

To date, the superintendent and Assistant Superintendent Jeff LaBroad have narrowed down 12 applicants to five candidates. She said the individuals have experience that makes them all “highly qualified.”

She presented a timeline as follows: first-round interviews on May 16 by numerous stakeholders (including teachers, special education team chair, Special Education Parent Advisory Council member, paraprofessionals and more); second-round interviews with central office administration on May 22, narrowing the field to two or three candidates; and forums on May 24 at different times of day with staff and the School Committee.

On May 25, the School Committee will deliberate publicly about its choices and vote on the replacement. Following that action, members will go into executive session to discuss contract specifics. The next day, an announcement will be made.

Facility use fees raised

The board voted to raise fees for certain groups seeking to use district facilities following a presentation by Director of Finance and Operations Susan Rothermich and Director of Facilities Tim Persson.

Persson said he noticed a lot of other school districts were looking to use Hopkinton facilities instead of those in their own towns. A comparison with comparable communities showed that Hopkinton’s fees were significantly lower.

Persson said it is costing more to operate buildings after hours — having to pay for custodians, lights, heat, supplies, etc. “We’re not really looking to make money, we just want to break even,” he said.

Currently, he explained that certain town and school department groups are not charged.

The second category is for school supporters, nonprofits, revenue-generating parent groups and the like. The third category covers town/school groups where membership is at least 75 percent residents such as the Parks & Rec Department or Special Olympics. The fourth category is for individuals and groups not based in Hopkinton.

The current fees of $10, $15 and $100 for Groups 2-4 would rise to $25, $45 and $115 for use of fields, gym, auditorium, cafeteria/library or conference rooms. Fees for the high school athletic center would be $50, $65 and $115.

Also, across the board, including the first category, it will cost $50 for custodial/maintenance fees, $50 for tech and $150 for service fees going forward, following the committee’s approval.

Committee members set to leave

It was the last meeting for members Batlle-Rafferty and Jennifer Devlin. The superintendent and LaBroad presented them with baskets of flowers. Other committee members thanked them for their hard work (including on the Elementary School Building Committee) and said they would be missed and “leave very big shoes to fill.”

Committee members also said goodbye and thanked departing student representative Robert Litscher, who was given gifts and praise at a previous meeting.

1 Comment

  1. J.E.

    Does the complete town budgeting process consider trade-offs? Should Hopkinton have spent SO much money on the “bike” paths, wide enough for a car? From a budgeting perspective, this was poorly thought out. The schools will always need additional funding. Why not save money by using wider streets with painted bike lanes to redirect more funding to the schools? Financial prioritization cannot be done in a vacuum, where each project is identified as a separate endeavor based on the specific stakeholder. The entire budget (a financial representation of priorities) should be on the table for reallocation. Was it?

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