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40B project could compound overcrowding at Brookline schools

Posted by Brock Parker  November 13, 2013 10:17 AM

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School officials may need to revisit a plan to expand several Brookline schools if a controversial development proposed at Hancock Village moves forward.

Brookline School Committee Chairman Alan Morse told Selectmen Tuesday that the proposed 192-unit expansion of Hancock Village in South Brookline could add to what has already been a sustained surge in student enrollment in the town.

“It is clear that this number of new units, most built for larger families, will bring a significant influx of new children to our school system,” said Morse.

Morse was speaking at a hearing at Brookline Town Hall Tuesday in which about 100 residents attended and asked selectmen to try and fight the development, which has been proposed by Chestnut Hill Realty.

Last month, the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency determined that the proposal is eligible to be developed under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law, which will allow the project to bypass some local zoning laws. Hancock Village was built in the 1940s and already has about 530 apartments off of Independence Drive and VFW Parkway.

Selectmen and neighbors have opposed several different plans to expand Hancock Village, including the current plan, arguing that the proposals will destroy a “greenbelt” of community open space around the property and cause drainage and storm-water runoff problems.

Morse told selectmen Tuesday he was not arguing for or against the project, but he said Chestnut Hill’s proposal to build 28 four-bedroom apartments, 28 three-bedroom apartments, and 70 two-bedroom apartments along with one-bedroom apartments is likely to add significantly more students to the Baker School and Brookline High School.

Chestnut Hill Realty has said it has not yet determined how many students are likely to live in the apartment complex.

In September, Brookline’s School Committee approved a plan that would call for expansions to multiple Kindergarten through 8th grade schools, as well as an expansion of the high school, to accommodate what has been a 23 percent surge in the school district’s enrollment since the 2004-2005 school year. Early estimates for the cost of the expansions have ranged from $150 to $300 million.

But Morse said the plan approved by the School Committee did not include an expansion of the Baker School, where students from a Hancock Village expansion would attend classes. He said students from the existing development already account for a third of the Baker School’s 754 students. Morse said there is some room for expansion at the Baker School, but if the increase in students was substantial enough the town might have to redistrict or consider building a new building at the school to house children in the lower grades.

Morse said the 192-apartment complex would also likely add to the student population at Brookline High School, where officials are already expecting enrollment to increase from its current level of about 1,800 students to about 2,500 students in the year 2022.

The Hancock Village development could push the number of students at the high school beyond the 2,500 peak estimate by the town, and could force officials to revisit the idea of building a second high school, Morse said.

“It goes without saying at this point that any of these options for Brookline High School, even the expansion currently contemplated, come with a significant cost to the town and the taxpayers,” Morse said.

Selectmen Chairwoman Betsy DeWitt told neighbors at the hearing Tuesday that the board is serious about doing whatever it can about the proposed development, but she said she could not yet say what, if anything, that is.

“What we would hope is that there is some way of achieving a more appropriate project if that is possible,” DeWitt said.

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