Hardy Elementary School supporters celebrated in December when Wellesley residents voted overwhelming in favor of funding a new version of the school slated to open in September of 2024. We haven’t heard much about the project since—or at least haven’t paid attention to it—so we were interested to catch up during the April 20 Planning Board meeting (watch near start of Wellesley Media recording).
This project has technically been in the works for 10 years, going back to when an Assessments and Feasibility Study was undertaken “that identified the needs for reinvestments in the elementary schools and the severity of the facilities deficiencies in the Hardy, Hunnewell and Upham schools,” says School Committee Member Melissa Martin. Since then, it’s been decided that Upham would close and that Hardy and Hunnewell would be rebuilt.
The new two-story Hardy Elementary School is considered a Project of Significant impact (PSI) in Planning Board terms, and that’s probably an understatement. The new building will be about 80,000 sq. ft. vs. the current 45,900 sq. ft. Hardy school building. “The larger size of the new school compared to that of the Hunnewell school is primarily due to additional space needs for the Skills program, the in-district specialized program serving students with autism spectrum disorder,” Martin adds.
The Hardy project cost was projected at Town Meeting last year at $72.5M (inclusive of $2.5M for the feasibility student and schematic design), though hopefully up to a $13.5M Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement will reduce that. The project will entail building the new school while the existing one operates, and tearing down homes on three parcels acquired by the town along Rte. 9 to make room for school access and more.
This kickoff meeting for the Project of Significant impact will be followed by additional Planning Board public hearings, as well as those with the Design Review Board (May 25) and eventually the Zoning Board of Appeals when it gets to the site review point. The Hardy and Hunnewell school projects are regularly featured at Permanent Building Committee meetings, too. The Select Board and town engineers are checking out the traffic study, and Planning will take their comments into account. The PSI application for the Hardy project was filed in February.
Planning Department Director Don McCauley explained that PSIs are the part of the permitting process that focus on how a project will impact town infrastructure, from water to sewer to fire protection services, not to mention roadway traffic. The financial authorization for this project came before this permitting had been done, he noted. PSI permitting typically involves lots of consultants and project managers, some of whom review each others’ work.
Design firm partner SMMA’s Peter Rebuck said during the Planning meeting that this project involves numerous challenges, including the steep topography, building in a water supply protection district, and oodles of traffic challenges on Weston Road, side streets (particularly Hardy Road), and Rte. 9 and its ramps.
The new building, designed to accommodate 365 K-5 students vs. about 290 today, will go up on the eastern part of the Hardy property, whereas the current building is on the western end on Weston Road. The current building will be razed to make way for a rectangular playing field (no more baseball/softball fields) and outdoor learning and play space, which will take shape toward the end of 2024. Parking spaces will increase by 50 to 110—including a handful of electric vehicle spots. Parking will be dispersed “so the buildings are not surrounded by a sea of parking,” Rebuck said.
A BETA Group traffic study examined existing conditions and projected for the future, looking at seven key intersections, and vehicular traffic numbers (currently 1,300-1,500 during peak hours on Weston Road), among other things. While Hardy is cherished by many as walkable or bikeable, most students get there by vehicle according to the presenters, and redistricting will be routing kids there from even further away (if the town ever gets to free busing for all, maybe that can help alleviate traffic).
Traffic is bad now from Hardy Road to Weston Road to Rte. 9, and that’s going to continue to be the case with the new school. But the designers hope to improve traffic flow by widening Hardy Road to include an additional exit lane (an easement onto school property will be sought at Fall Town Meeting) and by carving a driveway through the Rte. 9 parcels that can be used for morning drop-off. The Rte. 9 east shoulder will also be widened to help spare other drivers on Rte. 9 from bearing the brunt of people dropping off kids. The estimate is that 70% of non-bus drop-off traffic will come via Hardy Road in the morning and 30% via Rte. 9, but 100% of non-bus pickup traffic will take Hardy Road, putting even more of a squeeze on residents of that street.
Hardy during the afternoon will become something of a gated community—the plan for now is no access via that Rte. 9 driveway. The designers apparently aren’t sold on parents and guardians adhering to the “R” (respect for others) in Hardy’s R.I.S.E values. The Rte. 9 gate will be closed during afternoons “to discourage parents from trying to jump half the queue… We feel that if that happens, it will result in a queue stacking up onto Rte. 9., which when we talked to MassDOT they were very much not in favor of,” said BETA Group’s Tyler de Ruiter.
Other elements of note regarding the new school:
- It will be all-electric. So no gas service. Demand for electricity will triple that of the existing building. Arrays on the roof will help to handle part of that demand. Planning Board Member Marc Charney wondered about possible plans for solar panels in the parking lots as are seen at other schools in the area.
- Also asked: What about shade trees?
- Rte. 9 access to the Hardy complex will start around this time next year and be restricted to the construction team, as it sets up its “perimeter” to separate the active school operations from the new construction work.
- A Hardy Road resident raised her concerns with plans for the redesign of that road, and Planning Board members stressed that neighbors’ concerns and input should be taken seriously during the process.
- A couple of Planning Board members asked about plans to preserve any historic elements of Hardy, which has been around since 1923. Are we going to have start a “Save the silhouettes” campaign?