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Brookline narrows options to address enrollment surge

Posted by Brock Parker  August 6, 2013 11:10 AM

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A recommendation about how Brookline should address a surge in school enrollment could come as soon as next week, as a committee charged with the task began eliminating options Monday.

The options still under consideration are expanding several Kindergarten through 8th grade schools, expanding the Brookline High School, changing the school district’s grade configuration and building a new 7-12th grade school, starting multiple early education centers of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes, and, if the other options are not feasible, opening a new Kindergarten through 8th Grade school at the vacant Old Lincoln School.

The Committee on Brookline School Population and Capital Expenditures (referred to as B-SPACE) developed the list of remaining options in a meeting at Town Hall Monday night and is seeking more information before voting on its final recommendations to the School Committee as early as Monday, Aug. 12.

Committee co-chair Betsy DeWitt said the schedule for a final vote could be delayed, however, because the Massachusetts School Building Authority has notified the town that it is not going to authorize funding for a renovation of the Devotion School without first receiving more information about how Brookline plans to address surging enrollment throughout the district.

DeWitt said the town will contact the state agency to communicate the options remaining on the table.

“I would really want to be careful about having the Devotion project put at risk,” DeWitt said.

The town has been moving forward with plans for a $90 million renovation of the Devotion School, but now may be considering adding a few more classrooms to the expansion project to help address the enrollment surge.

Since the 2004-2005 school year, the number of students enrolled in Brookline schools has jumped from 5,779 to 7,217 in the 2012-2013 school year, an increase of about 25 percent. Much of the enrollment growth has been in the early grades, and the town anticipates the growth will continue.

The B-Space committee is seeking to add space for 600 students in the kindergarten through 8th grades and one way to do that would be to further expand the renovation plans for the Devotion School, along with adding classrooms to the recently expanded Heath School and at the Driscoll and Lawrence Schools. Under that proposal, the town would also need to expand Brookline High School, possibly at the same time, which is school officials have said may need more space as soon as 2017.

The potential costs of all the projects remains a concern, and the committee is seeking more information about the proposal to expand multiple buildings, including whether the town could manage five expansions at once.

DeWitt said it would not be easy, but it may have to be done.
“I think we have to all hunker down and know that we are going to suffer,” she said.

Building a new 7-12th grade school, possibly at Larz Anderson Park or on property at the Baldwin School in Chestnut Hill, would eliminate the need for expanding several Kindergarten through 8th grade schools. Under that proposal, Brookline High School would also be turned into 7-12th grade school, and other schools would convert into Kindergarten through 6th grade schools. But the committee is seeking more information about how changing the grade configuration in the school district could work.

Committee members were not enthusiastic about re-opening the Old Lincoln School as a new Kindergarten through 8th grade school, but wanted to keep it as a fallback option.

“It’s on the bottom of the list, but it’s on the list,” said committee member Michael Sandman.

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