It’s no secret that Wellesley public schools rank among the best in the state, year after year. It’s also no secret, at least here in Wellesley, that the quality of the physical plants is uneven. Some students and teachers work in the pristine and modernized environments of Sprague and the High School, while others make do in buildings that have long needed major renovations.
We’re not talking a coat of paint to freshen up the joints. The three schools most in need, and the three schools that are the subject of the School Facilities Committee recommendations, Hardy, Hunnewell, and Upham elementary schools, all have mechanical systems that have reached the end-of-life stage and they all lack compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as compliance with modern codes (fire safety being the most egregious). In addition, their modular classrooms, originally added on as a temporary fix — but we all know how those things go — are far beyond their rated lifespans.
The School Facilities Committee, a group of ten including Superintendent David Lussier and School Committee members Sharon Gray and Matt Kelley, has presented its recommendations regarding the future of Hardy, Hunnewell, and Upham elementary schools. They’re not suggesting band-aids. According to the Committee nothing short of major lifestyle changes must be implemented.
In the Committee’s meetings, there was talk of possibly solving at least some problems by building a new school on the North 40, but that idea was set aside due to uncertainty with regards to the town’s process and timing for developing a North 40 plan. They also discussed the ramifications and advantages of closing either Hunnewell, Upham, or Hardy. Traffic patterns were a factor, as was cost, and projected student enrollment, as the Committee weighed options. The Committee concluded that one of the three schools in question should close. And in the end, the fact that there are already significant traffic pattern challenges at Hardy makes Hardy the school that the Committee feels should close.
Why close a school at all? Expanding all three schools, which serve 961 students, to meet the needs of that student population is prohibitively expensive. By redistricting down from seven elementary schools into six through expanding two schools and closing one, the estimated total cost is $105 million. The estimated initial annual operating cost savings of such a plan is $550k.
There’s still plenty of discussion ahead on this issue. First of all, Town Meeting must approve the Committee’s recommendations. Next, there’s the question of money. Voters will have to OK a debt exclusion to make all of this happen.
Should Town Meeting and voters agree with the Committee, here’s the timeline:
- Town Meeting discussions, May 2016 – March 2017
- Debt exclusion vote, May 2017
- Construction of new Upham, December 2018 – June 2020
- New Upham opens, 2020
- Hunnewell students are relocated, September 2020
- Renovation of Hunnewell, July 2020 – January 2022
- Renovated Hunnewell reopens, September 2022
- Hardy closes, September 2022
Future presentations of the SFC recommendations are scheduled on the following dates:
Monday, October 5, 7pm in the Hardy School gym
Tuesday, October 6, 7pm in the Upham School gym
Wednesday, October 7, 7pm in the Hunnewell School gym
Wednesday, October 14, 7pm, Selectmen’s Meeting Room, Town Hall