20 Aug 2014
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Educators to Advocate for Woodland School Replacement

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the project Tuesday.

Milford Public Schools officials and school advocates have stepped up efforts to persuade Milford Town Meeting members, and residents, that a replacement school for Woodland Elementary School is a necessity.

Approval of the $60.9 million project will go to a Town Meeting vote Feb. 10. Designed to state standards, the project could qualify for 60 percent state funding. The town would cover the remainder, expected to be $34 million. 

The school will house the third, fourth and fifth grades when completed, and include 132,000-square-feet of space, a full-sized gymnasium, a fine arts corridor and a cafe-torium with a stage that would allow students to perform at the school. Separated bus loops and parent drop-offs would be created, to increase safety.

The Milford Planning Board tonight is expected to hold a public hearing on a request for a zoning change submitted by the Woodland Building Committee. This would allow the new school to exceed the current height restriction of 35 feet for buildings in a residential zone. The current flat-roof design calls for a maximum height of 42 feet for the central academic building, with two wings having roof elevations of 28 to 32 feet, according to the district. [See attached illustration]

The design changed after several homeowners who live near the existing school filed appeals of the Milford Zoning Board of Appeals approval of an earlier design, which had featured a pitched roof system with greater heights.

School architects also have repositioned the school on the site, to increase the distance from adjacent residential properties to within the allowed setback.

As part of a campaign to persuade residents that the new Woodland school is a necessity, school officials will host an open house at the school on Wednesday night, featuring tours of the building and an opportunity to speak with employees who work there. The project has been handled by the Woodland Building Committee, an appointed panel that includes school representatives and residents with construction experience. It is led by Aldo Cecchi.

In a letter to residents, Cecchi said the committee considered several locations, and several alternatives to building a new school. "Since the new construction would be less costly and provide less disruption of the existing school than the renovation [or] addition option, the building committee concluded that new construction on the Woodland site, while students are still using the existing building, was the best option," he wrote. "Once the new school has been built students will be moved to the new facility and the existing Woodland school will be safely demolished."

The school system is also engaging people on social media, and recently posted a video to its Facebook site, demonstrating existing conditions inside the elementary school.

The video highlights the crowded cafeteria, the congested bus loop, and the limitations of its "open concept" classroom construction. Woodland was built in the 1970s, during a phase of American education in which open concept schools — which feature classrooms without fixed walls — were a construction trend. In the decades since, school systems have abandoned these models and returned to traditional classroom designs.

The video is narrated by Woodland Principal Craig Consigli, who said the open concept construction has proven to be inefficient and distracting for students and teachers.

"The deign for the new Woodland School does not use an experimental classroom model," he states, in the voice over. "Rather, the new building goes back to the tried and true one classroom-per teacher model that we use in our other long lasting school buidlings, like Memorial and Stacy Middle School."

The video is expected to be presented in the Feb. 10 Special Town Meeting, at which time Town Meeting members will be asked to approve two articles related to the school construction project. One asks members to approve a zoning change that will allow the school, as well as all public schools in the future, to exceed the current height restriction on buildings in residential zones. A second article seeks authority to raise funds for the local share of the construction.

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