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Needham selectmen to consider controversial Hillside Elementary, Cricket Field measure Tuesday

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  October 21, 2013 03:52 PM

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Needham selectmen will vote Tuesday night on whether they support a feasibility study to renovate or rebuild Hillside Elementary School, a measure that has divided the community on whether Cricket Field on Hillside Avenue should be include on a list of sites for building the new school or housing temporary classroom space.

An article to approve the $650,000 Hillside Elementary feasibility study will appear before Nov. 4 special Town Meeting in November for a vote, though approximately half the cost of the study could be covered by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, officials said.

Hillside Elementary has been slated as next in line for renovation in the town's recent push to revitalize all elementary school buildings, with town leaders hoping to complete the project by September 2019. But officials are unsure whether they should rebuild or renovate the school on its current Glen Gary Road property, or build a new permanent school or temporary classrooms on a different site.

DeFazio Park on Dedham Avenue.

As officials prepare a feasibility study to determine these issues, some locals say the nearby Cricket Field should be considered as a site for either a new school building or temporary classrooms.

"We’re just saying let’s study Cricket Field and if it's $10 million cheaper to build there, let’s decide what that means," said Jacob Grossman, a Needham resident who supports studying the field. "I think the selectmen have a fiduciary responsibility to discuss all the options."

However, other residents say repurposing the field for education should be taken off the table, citing a community need for open space. Additionally, town parks officials who manage the field have indicated that they will not transfer the space to be used for a building, selectman chairman Dan Matthews said Monday.

Although the Town Meeting measure to fund the feasibility study will not directly include what sites to consider, Matthews said the issue will invariably come up as residents will want to know what specifically will be studied.

"You can’t talk about the appropriation without somebody asking what we will spend this on," he said.

But Matthews said in order for the town to have a shot at state funding and finish the school on schedule, the feasibility study will need to be approved quickly.

"We’re trying to get things done on a fairly near timeline, and we need to start work on a site we agree on soon," Matthews said. "We have a lot of work to do and a lot of opinions to incorporate and problems to work on, and in the end, we just need to have those schools in a good working order."

At Tuesday's meeting, which begins at 6:45 p.m. at Needham Town Hall, selectmen will also consider a measure to appear before Town Meeting, which calls for installing a solar panel field on top of a local landfill.

The solar panels would help reduce the town's carbon footprint and could save the town money on its energy bills, as there are currently state grants to help with its installation, Matthews said.

"This landfill is basically a big cap on top of a hill of trash," he said. "We can't plant trees or anything on it, and it's an elevated area that gets an enormous amount of sunshine, so it has potential for a solar site."

Town Meeting members would need to amend zoning bylaws, allow the town to extend a developer contract for 15 or 20 years, and approve using $15,000 of town funds to build the field.

At the special Town Meeting, members will also be asked to vote on eventually allowing small restaurants to obtain full liquor licenses; fining medical marijuana users $50 for smoking the drug, legally obtained or not, in public; approving funds needed to convert an abandoned rail trail into a passive recreation space; building $2.7 worth of modular classrooms at Mitchell Elementary School; and spending $1.4 million to buy the 66-70 Chestnut St. property next to the police station.

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