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Wellesley officials opt to renovate middle school

Posted by Sarah Thomas  September 28, 2010 05:15 PM

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Picking the least expensive of three options, town officials have endorsed a plan to convert practice rooms and lecture space at Wellesley Middle School into classrooms to accommodate an anticipated bump in enrollment over the next seven years.

At a joint meeting Monday, the Wellesley School Committee and the School Building Committee unanimously chose that plan over turning the school's fitness center into classroom space or moving central administration into an off-site location. Modular classrooms were also suggested earlier, but rejected.

‘‘A lot of work and time went into this, but we really feel it was a good decision,’’ selectman Terri Tsagaris, chair of the School Building Committee, said in an interview. "Based on projected enrollment, we think this plan will provide us enough space to get through 2014 and beyond."

The middle school, originally constructed in 1950 and extensively renovated in 2005, is designed to accommodate 1,100 students. However, enrollment projections for Fiscal Year 2013 suggest 1,188 students will be enrolled, said school committee chair K. C. Kato, who is also a member of the School Building Committee. Enrollment is then expected to decrease again, returning to 1,100 in seven years.

"There was some concern raised because this solution cuts it very close," Kato said. "We're doing just enough to support enrollment at the projected levels. If there is a swing up, we're going to be crowded. We will be pushing the outer edge of class size recommendations."

The renovation is expected to cost approximately $985,000, and was the least expensive of the final plans. In the plan, the school's second-floor lecture hall will be converted into two classrooms, while its third-floor lecture hall will become a science room and office space. Five practice rooms and the old METCO office will become special education space; the director of METCO is currently located at the high school.

"We felt good about this plan because internal renovation allows you to do construction faster and you don't have the same permitting challenges," Kato said. "We hope we can accomplish this with the minimum amount of impact on students."

Funds for the project will need to be approved at a special town meeting, which committee members are tentatively scheduling for Dec. 6. If the funds are appropriated, Kato said initial demolition would be completed over the April break, and construction would take place during summer vacation.

"I think it's a positive development that the renovations will all be internal, and we don't have an option that will change the footprint of the building," said Wellesley deputy director and school building committee member Chris Ketchen. "This option provides the most flexibility, at a reasonable cost."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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