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Braintree schools ponder $4.2 million modular classrooms plan

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 15, 2013 11:55 AM

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Braintree School officials have been debating for years how to accommodate a growing student body, but a $4.2 million solution may be at hand.

School Committee members will discuss the possibility of buying four modular classrooms for each of the town’s six elementary school buildings, which could accommodate up to 550 students in total.

The additional space is the equivalent of what would be added from opening a new school or reopening a closed one, and is more affordable, said Braintree Superintendent Peter Kurzberg.

“We think that it’s a conservative approach to not only our current space needs but also our projected space needs,” Kurzberg said in a phone interview.

Braintree has been toying with the idea of opening up one of their closed schools – such as Monatiquet, Eldridge, or Foster - for some time, and even submitted a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building authority a year ago to begin planning to deal with space needs.

Yet after a space study was completed for the town in May 2012, town officials discovered that their space problems might be more expensive than anticipated.

According to the study, conducted by Habeeb & Associates, opening one of the existing buildings back for school purposes could cost upwards of $65 million. Renovating existing schools and adding on substantially would cost an estimated $70 million.

Other options, such as adding for growth as necessary to existing schools, building a seventh elementary school, or opening four new schools over the next 10 years could cost anywhere from $67 million to $122 million.

A lease-to-buy option for modular spaces, to be done over a seven-year period, would most likely cost $612,000 annually, based on start-up costs, furniture, and added operating costs.

“The modular is actually similar to one of the recommendations that was in the study that had permanent additions, and so all this is doing is looking at the possibility of using prefabricated buildings as opposed to adding permanent additions at a significant savings to the town,” Kurzberg said.

Kurzberg noted that the project would still have to go out to bid, and that the prices are estimates.

The addition of modular classrooms would help alleviate space problems existing in all six of the elementary schools, Kurzberg said, saving up space for media centers and other rooms that have been sacrificed for classroom space.

“Our buildings right now are very tight, particular for our specialists, and so we would see being able to utilize some of that space to free up where they are currently located into more adequate space for their use as well,” Kurzberg said.

The savings would allow the town to look into renovations to the existing schools as well, possibly with help from the MSBA.

“One of the options in the space needs plan did not call for any upgrades of any of the other schools, but our plan would be to move in that direction,” Kurzberg said.

The town is already using modular classrooms to alleviate space problems, two at Highlands Elementary and two at South Middle School. Both were put in place in 2001.

Though modular classrooms are seen by some as temporary solutions to long-term problems, Kurzberg said that the lifetime for prefabricated spaces could be over 20 years.

“Temporary classrooms have really remained permanent in the schools and quite honestly, we don’t see removing them at this point,” Kurzberg said. “They went in as the nicest classrooms in the school. They are self-contained, they have heating and AC in them, nice lighting, so what we’ve been doing with our renovations is trying to bring our existing classrooms [up to that standard].”

The School Committee will discuss the issue again at Its Jan. 28 meeting. Kurzberg said there are still some people who will need convincing.

“I think that modular classrooms or modular buildings may have a negative connotation to them, but I think that they have come a long way in the industry, and I think once people see what a prefab facility can look like or classrooms can look like, that they would change their mind,” Kurzberg said.

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