Local Government and Politics, News

Swampscott mulls one new building to replace three elementary schools

SWAMPSCOTT — School and town officials are planning for a consolidated K-5 elementary school, which would replace the town’s three neighborhood elementary schools.

The school district was accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) program for replacement of Hadley Elementary School in December. Hadley was built in 1911 and is the oldest school in town — the building’s current conditions have caused students to miss school in the past.

School officials are seeking state support for a new school building four years after the town rejected a district-wide elementary school.

Officials are opting to try again for a consolidated elementary school, which aligns with the district’s educational vision, which includes expanding grade level consolidation to the elementary level, according to Superintendent Pamela Angelakis.

Under the plan, fifth grade would be moved out of the middle school down to the elementary level, which Angelakis said is more developmentally, socially and academically appropriate, and a district-wide school would replace the district’s three existing elementary schools, Hadley, Clarke and Stanley.

Angelakis said the MSBA conducted a site visit in October, and school officials asked that the team also take a look at Clarke and Stanley, which were built in 1952 and 1929 respectively.

After the visit, Angelakis said the district was advised to also submit statements of interest for replacement of Clarke and Stanley because the schools do not provide adequate space and services for students, which she plans to do.

Suzanne Wright, school committee member, said the MSBA team was shocked by the poor condition of Clarke and Stanley. Wright said the district is going to try to fix its elementary school problem one time and the opportunity to submit a statement for Stanley and Clarke allows school officials to put all three buildings into the project at once.

“A consolidated school really is the way for Swampscott to be able to offer the kinds of specialized services and equity to all of its elementary students,” said Amy O’Connor, school committee chairwoman.

School and town officials will be asking Town Meeting members to approve a yet to be determined amount for a feasibility study in May, but the ballpark figure is about $750,000. Officials are trying to determine what can be used from the feasibility study conducted for the district-wide elementary school that was rejected in 2014. Wright said the previous study cost the town $500,000.

Site determination for the new school would come as part of the study. Once the study is completed, architects would be hired to design the building and Town Meeting would have to approve funding for the school. Officials plan to ask Town Meeting for that funding in either the fall of 2019 or spring of 2020. A ballot vote would also be needed.

Angelakis said renovating the current middle school and using the evacuated fifth grade space to expand middle school programming into updated and modernized spaces is also included in the district’s educational vision. The renovated middle school would house pre-K and grades 6-8.

Wright said it’s not clear whether the district would try to go through the MSBA process for the middle school, as the town might not have an appetite for a full renovation after going through the process for the elementary school.

“We have to figure out as a community if we want to try to fund this one ourselves and not use MSBA money,” Wright said.

In addition to submitting a statement of interest for replacement of Hadley in the spring, Angelakis also submitted a statement of interest for renovation of the middle school. At the time, she said the reason for the two submissions was to demonstrate that Swampscott has a long-range vision for its schools, adding that an Educational Vision K-12 had been developed after the last failed school vote.

Wright said there’s some important differences between the process now and during the last school effort. She said school officials are making it a priority to ensure that different town boards and committees are educated about the process of the project and to make sure the other boards have input throughout its different phases.

The project was discussed during a recent joint meeting between the School Committee, Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee. Wright said officials also plan to educate the community about the educational vision and opportunity the school building is going to allow.

Evan Katz, school business administrator, said the school department has been forced to spend its limited facilities budget on repairing and renovating outdated elementary buildings, citing a recently completed boiler replacement project at Hadley, which cost $495,000.

The effort for a new school started after the failed Town Meeting vote in 2014 for a consolidated elementary school on the site of the Swampscott Middle School on Forest Avenue. A task force was put together, made up of people for and against the new school with the intent to put a new statement of interest in.

In July 2014, the MSBA gave final approval for a district-wide elementary school in Swampscott. The plans included building a new school for grades 1-4 on land adjacent to the middle school. Clarke School would have been converted to house pre-kindergarten to kindergarten. Stanley School would have been demolished with the land converted to athletic fields and playgrounds. The proposed project cost $52.6 million, and the town would have been responsible for approximately $35 million.

The proposal had to pass two votes, a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting and a town-wide ballot vote requiring a simple majority. Town Meeting voted 140-98 in favor of the school in October 2014, falling short of the two-thirds majority. The school was rejected by more than 2,500 votes on the ballot initiative that year.

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