Three of Newton's elementary schools are one step closer to having more classroom space.
The Board of Aldermen last night voted to approve more than $923,000 to fund four modular classrooms for some of the district's crowded elementary schools. Two classrooms are slated for Zervas Elementary while Burr and Horace-Mann Elementary are set to receive one each.
"What we should be doing is building on to these schools in an appropriate way," said Ald. Susan Albright, who supported the funding but reminded the board that modular classrooms are not a permanent solution for a rapidly-growing district. "These are stop-gap measures because we have to do them."
But last night's vote did not come without questions and debate; much of the meeting was spent on whether the board should approve a resolution asking for an additional $87,500 to include green features at all four modular classrooms.
The board eventually voted "no action necessary" on the resolution, with Ald. Amy Mah Sangiolo and Vice President Cheryl Lappin opposing the "no action necessary" vote. Ald. Ted Hess-Mahan and Mitchell Fischman were not present at the meeting.
As explained by Ald. Sydra Schnipper, the additional $87,500 was brought up by the Programs & Services and Public Facilities Committees. The resolution was meant to provide extra funding to make all four of the modular classrooms equally "green." Initially, the Public Buildings department had proposed having only two green classrooms, but the committees felt it was important to keep equitable services across all city neighborhoods.
The committees also wanted to make sure the green modulars would be equal in quality to those installed recently at Oak Hill Middle School.
However, when the proposal reached Finance Committee a few days later, Public Buildings Commissioner Stephanie Gilman had more details on what the green modulars actually included, and said the committee would not need the additional $87,500 to have four equally green modulars.
The Public Buildings Department presented three types of modulars: a base model, a basic green model and a green model with added "bells and whistles." The proposed $923,375, Gilman explained at Finance Committee, would cover basic green models that include some green features equal to those at Oak Hill, but not expensive add-ons such as light shelves and fiberglass windows.
Ald. Deborah Crossley explained that the basic green modular classrooms included items that helped with energy efficiency and durability, a definite step up from a regular, base-model modular classroom. The extra green add-ons were something the city could "give up."
"I sure hope that we will be able to do [the basic green classrooms] and not the base bid," Crossley said. "There are things in there that make investment worth while for the city."
Two School Committee members -- Kurt Kusiak and Chair Claire Sokoloff -- also told the Finance Committee last month the basic green modulars were sufficient.
With the $923,375 request including enough for the basic green modualrs -- according to Public Buildings -- most aldermen last night agreed the additional $87,500 resolution was not necessary.
"Right now we are being told that the figure in front of us [$923,375] will get us [four basic green modulars], that's why I think we should vote ['no action necessary'] right now," said Ald. Lenny Gentile, chair of Finance Committee. Gentile added that the mayor will return if he feels there needs to be additional funding.
If the mayor does come back, Gentile said, he does not believe the request will slow down the modular construction process.
Lappin, though, argued the number should be sent to the mayor anyway. If bids come in and the initial funding is not enough for four basic green modulars, then the money is already there.
Gentile added that the Public Buildings department has said it will continue to consult with aldermen as bids for the modulars come in later this summer.