22 Aug 2014
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School Space Needs Proposals Move into Design Review Phase

Included in the space needs discussion is the high demand for full-day kindergarten in Braintree.

School Space Needs Proposals Move into Design Review Phase

School Committee members voted unanimously Monday night to request more detailed proposals on both regular and modular classroom additions to Braintree's elementary schools.

Department officials will provide the committee plans that show design specifications and costs for construction that could help alleviate some of the district's space problems.

The committee will likely decide on an option by March 1, said Mayor Joseph Sullivan, who proposed that the town might be able to sell Eldridge to Montessori and put the proceeds toward expansion costs.

"We have to do our due diligence and homework," Committee Chair Shannon Hume said. "We have to do what's right for now and the future."

With funding at a premium – preliminary budget requests by department heads earlier in the night demonstrated a wide-ranging need for additional staff and equipment – the committee is attempting to fashion a plan that adds as many as 24 classrooms spread evenly throughout the town's six elementary schools without breaking the bank.

A set of four modular classrooms, connected by a hallway and featuring brick veneer, a foundation and other add-ons, could cost $600,000 or more, Business Manager Peter Kress said. They would be built elsewhere but installed at the schools as permanent additions, lasting decades.

Regular additions with the same amount of space, such as those built in 2006 and 2007 at Liberty and Flaherty, could cost as much as $800,000, though Kress said that would likely be the high-end number.

Supplemental funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority may be hard to come by. Despite the authority's move toward funding more renovation and maintenance costs, as described by Mayor Sullivan, the state has never helped fund modular classrooms or upgrades at more than one school in a town at one time, Kress said.

Committee member Tom Devin suggested Braintree residents consider supporting a tax override, but one that would tie the extra revenue to the construction debt and lapse when it is paid off.

In addition to money, time is at the crux of the discussion.

A space needs study prepared last year by architect Habeeb & Associates outlined various solutions, from renovations and additions to new schools, that would cost anywhere from $66 million to $123 million. But those proposals could take years to implement.

One option, which committee member Pam Kiley contends would deal with short- and long-term issues, would be to re-open Monatiquot School as a full-day kindergarten center next year, freeing up space at the elementary schools and giving the town more time for new construction.

"That's the way I was hoping Braintree was headed," Kiley said. "I really want to see a new school in Braintree. Our town deserves it, our kids deserve it."

Kress said he is talking to Montessori about its options. It currently rents half of Monatiquot. Along with potentially purchasing Eldridge, the private school could seek a long-term lease there. The school needs an answer sooner rather than later, though, Kress said, as it makes plans for this fall.

"If we want to do something now, it's got to be modular," Kress said. "If we want to do something over time, it can be whatever we want."

Modular classrooms can be installed by the start of school this fall, while additions built on site would not be ready until January 2014, Kress said.

School officials visited permanent modular additions in Stoughton last week. Kiley contended that modulars face integrity problems in the long run, but Hume said that Stoughton officials have had no significant issues with the space in the decade since they were installed.

"Modulars are not trailers," Hume said. "They are construction done off site."

A number of Braintree parents attended the meeting Monday. Several spoke out about the demand for full-day kindergarten and how that fits into the space needs discussion. Look for more on that aspect of the issue on Braintree Patch Wednesday morning.

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