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Newton School Officials Propose Adding Modular Classrooms to Four Elementary Schools

The proposal recommends adding modular classrooms at Bowen, Burr, Horace Mann and Mason Rice.

With student enrollment reaching record numbers, officials in the Newton Public Schools are once again looking at short-term solutions for classroom shortages in the district's elementary and middle schools. 

Deputy Superintendent/Chief Administrative Officer Sandy Guryan presented plans to the School Committee last night that propose adding modular classrooms to four elementary schools that are projected to have space shortages next year (2013-2014).

"We really are at the tipping point," Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Joe Russo said, noting the capacity issues at some of the district's elementary schools. 

In addition to the modular classrooms, the district is also reviewing all buffer zones, Guryan said. The administration plans to make buffer zone changes before kindergarten registration to make sure new families are aware of any school changes.

One of the schools with the greatest need for space is Bowen Elementary, Guryan said. The population is at a point now where adding just one classroom does not provide the amount of room the school needs. 

According to Bowen Elementary School Council Co-Chair Greg Wellenius, who spoke during the public comment period last night, Bowen grew by 29 students this year and has 12 classrooms with more than 25 students. With 484 students, it is now the second largest elementary school in the district behind Countryside, Wellenius said.

With those numbers, Guryan said the district is looking at adding two double-stacked modular classrooms at Bowen for the 2013-2014 school year. An existing singular modular on the site may be moved to another school (Burr or Horace Mann), resulting in a net gain of three classrooms. 

However, Guryan noted that the Bowen site is "challenging" and architects will have to study the school building and grounds before the district can determine whether the two double-stacked modulars will fit there. 

To view the memo detailing the short-term space recommendations, click the .pdf above. 

In addition to adding modulars, Guryan said the administration is also looking at reconfiguring some existing spaces to use as classroom space. 

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. 
  • Burr Elementary - Install one additional modular classroom. Will also look at reallocating internal space and building a new classroom in part of the cafetorium and/or the art room. (A modular classroom was added here last year).
  • Horace Mann Elementary - Install one modular classroom. Also looking at renovating a basement room currently being used by the after school program and/or space located between two modular classrooms. (A modular classroom was added here last year).
  • Lincoln-Eliot Elementary - Relocate the preschool program to another building to free up several classrooms. Also, relocate specialist spaces to make more classrooms. 
  • Mason-Rice Elementary - While space will be needed for grades 3-5 next year, more flexible classroom space can be added in 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 school years. The district is looking at adding two double-stacked modular classrooms, which will require sprinkler installation. Officials also recommend converting space in the basement currently used for the after school program.

In addition, the administration is projecting that the district will need additional space at all four 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.

Guryan could not comment on a potential price or the budget for the short-term space needs. 

"We're working closely with the city and the Capital Improvement Plan and we have not yet determined an exact budget for short-term space," Guryan said. "We're not making any statement that we know the cost of this yet or even if the cost is manageable."

Typically, Guryan said the district studies the finances before proceeding with a short-term space plan. This time, though, the administration looked at things a little differently.

"In this case, we’re developing what the needs are, what the scope of our needs are and proceeding forward to see how much of it we might be able to accomplish," Guryan said. 

School Committee Chair Claire Sokoloff added that the potential cost and funding for the short-term space needs ties in to the mayor's override proposal, which includes $4.5 million for high student enrollment (teacher salaries and short-term space needs). 

Passing the override, Sokoloff said, is crucial for funding the modular classrooms and short-term space proposal. 

"It's all related," Sokoloff said.

In addition to the short-term space needs presentation, Guryan also presented the district's annual enrollment analysis. Stay tuned to Newton Patch for updates on that report. 

According to the Bowen PTO website, Superintendent David Fleishman will hold an informational session at Bowen about the short-term space proposal on Thursday, Nov. 29 at 8:30 a.m. for any parents and staff interested in more information. 

schlock November 27, 2012 at 11:54 AM
I especially like the idea that after the expansion of enrollment and buffer zone stabilization occurs, we will have an abundance of reusable modulars. Relocating the modulars in a circle for storage on city land will be an alternative school - Newton's modular village drawing folks from all around Newton.. Once again Newton becomes the magnet for bohemian education.
Stephanie November 27, 2012 at 12:42 PM
If citizens of Newton don't think we need additional space. . . . or don't want to pay for it, I would encourage them to come up with ideas of where to put this growing population. Classrooms should NOT have more than 25 kids (they should have less than that), and giving up specialist space at Angier is NOT an option. We need real answers, and I am curious to see how modulars will be placed at Bowen.
Mick Shrimpton November 27, 2012 at 02:27 PM
This (an explosion in school enrollment) is what happens when City Hall and the Zoning Board allows developers to sub-divide lots and/or tear down old single-family homes (and then build multi-unit condos and townhouses in their place). The 40B apartment boom is also contributing to the problem. This stuff isn't rocket science - it seems fairly obvious to me that the school enrollment would explode given the way Newton allows developers to exploit poorly written and rarely enforced zoning requirements. Of course, others will argue that these new residences will increase the tax base, but it takes many years to reap the benefit of that additional tax revenue, whereas their impact on the school system is immediate and devastating. Newton is slowly turning into Allston, and the elementary school system is completely unprepared. This is not the fault of the school committee or the Superintendent - the blame lies on both the current and previous administrations (not to mention the "legendary" Ted Mann who sold off half the elementary schools to his developer buddies. What a mess.

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