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Newton School Committee Moves Forward with Plan for 7 Modular Classrooms

The seven classrooms are proposed for four different elementary schools in the district.

With the goal of giving the district more space by September 2013, the Newton School Committee Monday night approved $350,000 to be spent on feasibility studies and designs for seven modular classrooms at four elementary schools.

School officials have proposed modular classrooms for Horace Mann, Mason-Rice, Burr and Bowen elementary schools. 

"We would prefer doing permanent construction, but our timeframe just doesn't allow for it," Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Joe Russo told the committee Monday night.

Facing increased enrollment and strained classroom space, School administrators last month  for the 2013-2014 school year.

The administration presented its final elementary recommendations Monday night, requesting one new modular for Horace Mann, two new modulars for Mason-Rice, four new modulars for Bowen (two, "double-stacked" modulars) and one modular for Burr. 

The Burr modular will actually be an older modular relocated from Bowen, officials said. This will result in a net gain of three classrooms at Bowen, a school that grew by nearly 30 students this year. 

The administration is aiming to have the modulars installed and ready for students by the start of the next school year. 

"This vote is essential for us to move forward and to even think about having something in place for the end of August," Russo said. "Even then, [the timeline] is going to be really tight."

The $350,000 approved Monday night will be drawn from the unspent reserve for fiscal 2013, according to Deputy Superintendent/Chief Administrative Officer Sandy Guryan. 

Several School Committee members showed some concern in spending the reserve money on the modulars, arguing that the money will be needed in other areas such as technology and special education. 

Nevertheless, Guryan reassured the committee that the money would be well spent on the new classrooms.

"I think the investment is worthy and [the modulars] will be in place for a long time," Guryan said.

Guryan told the committee she could not give an estimate yet on the total cost for the construction of the seven modulars. 

"It's too early to give an estimate of cost -- but that doesn't mean people are not working on [an estimate]," Guryan said. "If we were to try to estimate a number, we would be premature and setting ourselves up for frustration as we get more information." 

The School Department ran into a snarl in 2011 after unexpected sprinkler costs arose during the process of adding four new modular classrooms at Burr, Horace Mann and Zervas elementary schools. State law requires school buildings undergoing renovations to have full sprinkler systems.

This time around, Guryan said the only school that will need a new sprinkler system is Mason-Rice. 

According to a memo sent to the School Committee, the full cost of the seven modular classrooms and the necessary sprinkler installation is included in the city's Capital Improvement Plan. This memo is included in the .pdf section to the right.

Aside from the modular classrooms, the administration is still exploring some buffer zone changes and classroom configurations at several elementary and middle schools next year. 

The other 2013-2014 school year short-term space recommendations include: 

  • Angier Elementary - Reallocate internal space by using existing specialist areas to create one additional classroom. The current Angier/Countryside buffer zone may be adjusted to help with student population as well. Once the new Angier Elementary School is built, more space will be added into the system. 
  • Lincoln-Eliot Elementary - Relocate one preschool classroom to the Education Center.

In addition, the administration is projecting that the district will need additional space at Newton middle schools to accommodate increased student enrollment.

While the current expansion at F.A. Day will add some capacity, space will need to be reconfigured at the other three middle schools to make room for additional classrooms:

  • Bigelow Middle - Two additional classrooms will be needed next year. Officials recommend creating a new Bigelow/Day buffer zone in the Cabot Elementary district that divides the students differently and allows some more flexibility between the two schools. A district-wide specialized program can also be relocated.
  • Brown Middle - Two to four additional classrooms will be needed next year and can be created by reconfiguring existing space and relocating some district-wide programs.
  • Oak Hill Middle - Two additional classrooms will be needed next year and can be created by reconfiguring existing space and relocating some district-wide programs.

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