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Brookline considering expanding three to five schools at once

Posted by Brock Parker  July 30, 2013 10:40 AM

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A consultant has identified three to four Kindergarten through 8th grade schools that Brookline could expand to address its surging student enrollment, along with renovations at the Devotion and Brookline High schools.

The report by Cambridge-based HMFH Architects presented to the town Monday night said there is room for expansion at Brookline's Baker, Driscoll, Lawrence and the recently-expanded Heath School.

But HMFH architect Philip Lewis said that if the town wants to add space where the new students are living in North Brookline, the Baker School, which is in South Brookline, would not be ideal.

As a result, Lewis said HMFH has looked closely at adding space only to the Driscoll, Lawrence and Heath School, projects that when combined with an expansion of Brookline High School are expected to cost about $160 million. State assistance could cover about $50 million of that amount, Lewis estimated.

The HMFH findings were reported to the Committee on Brookline School Population and Capital Expenditures, referred to as B-SPACE, Monday night at Town Hall in a meeting attended by more than 150 parents. Many people wore blue shirts or red hats in opposition to different school projects being considered by the town to address enrollment growth.

Since the 2004-2005 school year, the number of students enrolled in Brookline schools has jumped from 5,779 to 7,217 this school year, an increase of almost 25 percent. The surge has been especially steep in the early grades and as those large classes advance into higher grades, the enrollment growth is expected to continue.

Groups of parents and residents have been rallying against three options for creating more classroom space, including one proposal to build a new school at Amory Park, that is now off the table. Other options drawing opposition are proposals to renovate the vacant Old Lincoln School on Route 9, which some parents call a poor location for a school, and a proposal to build a new school behind the Baldwin School in Chestnut Hill, which would require heavy redistricting throughout the town.

Expanding the three Kindergarten through 8th grade schools would solve the town’s dilemma in finding a place to accommodate an additional 600 students expected to be enrolled in the schools in the coming years.

But Lewis said renovating the three schools in time to meet the demand for space could be difficult.

“This is still logistically challenging because you still have three construction projects that might need to be done simultaneously,” he said.

In addition to the three Kindergarten through 8th grade schools studied for the HMFH report, Brookline is also planning an $90 million renovation at the Devotion School as well as the high school expansion that school officials say will needed by as early as 2017.

As a result, the town could have five school projects underway at once.

HMFH has also looked at other scenarios that the town could pursue to create more space. Lewis said the town could shift to Kindergarten through 6th grade schools and build one new 7th through 12th grade school at the Larz Anderson Park near Avon Street. The new building would be about $150 million, and Lewis estimated it would cost the town about $98 million after receiving assistance from the state.

Adding smaller amounts of space to the Baker, Heath, Driscoll and Lawrence Schools, as well as pursuing a $65 million renovation of Brookline High School would cost about $108 million and state assistance could cut the total to about $76 million for the town. But Lewis said this scenario would still risk overcrowding the schools because common space, such as cafeterias, would not be expanded.

Building a new Kindergarten through 8th grade school and renovating the high school could cost about $140 million, and HMFH estimated the state could cover about $49 million of that amount.

The B-Space committee is still mulling the options and preparing to report to the Brookline School Committee with its recommendations in mid August.

The town would then have to pursue overrides to pay for the projects and staffing the added classroom space. Early estimates of the property tax increases to the median Brookline home valued at about $1,071,750 are well over $600.

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