The Hunnewell Elementary School project moved a step closer toward either renovation or full tear down/construction as representatives from the Compass Management Team laid out ten possible scenarios for bringing the 80-year old school into the 21st century. The December 20 joint meeting at Town Hall of the School Building Committee and the Board of Selectmen focused on Draft Design Plans, swing space, and educational planning.
Earlier this year at a Special Town Meeting, $1 million was appropriated for the now-completed feasibility study of the school to determine whether it should be renovated or torn down and reconstructed. Some of the problems at Hunnewell include antiquated heating, plumbing electrical, and fire alarm systems; modular classrooms being used well beyond their service life; and the challenges of one space used for the gym, cafeteria, and auditorium. The design team from SMAA Compass Project Management created the feasibility study and its recommendations. Here’s a link to the study.
Five of the plans in the study show what an addition/renovation plan would look like, and five of the plans show what new construction would look like. Each plan lays out a design of either a two-story building or a three-story building.
Swing space was also discussed at the meeting. The ideas include using modular classrooms at the Hunnewell site; using modulars, some at Hunnewell and some at a second or third elementary school site; or using an alternative site such as Wellesley Village Church at 2 Central Street or St. Paul Church at 502 Washington St.
Residents have an axe to grind
The hot-button issue of the night concerned the fate of the venerable White Oak that graces the site.
Concerned Hunnewell School neighbors, parents, and other stakeholders at the meeting voiced their opposition to destroying the 200+ year old White Oak tree outside the front entrance of the 28 Cameron Street elementary school. The tree, long used by the community for everything from a teaching tool to a place to loll in the shade, could become a casualty of the need to either substantially renovate or tear down and rebuild Hunnewell.
Although the community has accepted that Hunnewell no longer meets the standard for modern education, the idea that the over 30-foot tall tree might fall along with part or all of the building rankles many.
Wellesley resident Janie Penn, whose daughter attended Hunnewell and fondly remembers the huge tree said at the meeting, “Children of that age are very ecologically sensitive…” Penn referenced a book-writing project the second graders worked on that included an author’s biography blurb each child included as part of the assignment. Penn said one of her daughter’s friends wrote, ‘The author lives with her parents and sister and cat, and when she grows up she wants to save the Amazon rain forest.’ The idealism of these children is still inspiring me.”
Wellesley resident Susan Zelenko in an email questioned the idea that the tree should be removed. She said, “Can we not attempt saving it and making it a special part of Hunnewell that sets it apart? There are many architectural possibilities in building around the tree — and many uses for it after…not only to sit under the tree, but to use it for science investigations, for math, even for art. A tree like this is an asset, not an impediment.”
There’s still a long way to go before a decision is made on the issue, however it is an issue that the School Committee will decide because the tree is located on school property and is not considered a public shade tree. That means that neither the Natural Resources Commission, the Park and Tree Division, nor the Planning Board would be a decision-making agency regarding the potential removal of the tree.
Net zero, for the record
Mary Gard, part of the Sustainable Wellesley leadership team, had a simple, big-picture message: “We want the building to be net zero. We just want that on the record.”
A building with net zero energy consumption is one in which the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. That can be achieved in part by the use of solar panels, for example.
Upcoming dates regarding Hunnewell, Hardy, and Upham:
January 3: School Building Committee Subcommittee on OPM Selection (Hardy/Upham), 5:30 p.m., Great Hall
January 10: School Building Committee Meeting (Hunnewell options discussion), 5:30 p.m., Kingsbury Room, Wellesley Police Department
January 17: School Building Committee Meeting (Hardy/Upham OPM interviews), 5:30 p.m., Great Hall