Master Planning Task Force Narrows Options for School Reconfiguration and Consolidation

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Friday February 06, 2015

Thirteen individuals serving on the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force have been charged with the complex task of evaluating growing pressures on school and city facilities and infrastructure and have been sifting through reams of data to help determine new options for school configuration. They have been gathering information since December, and in marathon meetings - many lasting more than four hours - the group has been evaluating civic facility needs versus current resources, examining city demographics, legislative initiatives, school enrollment trends, and the current configuration of the district’s schools, including factors such as location and consolidation.

Saxon Partners Presentation

The January 29 meeting began in earnest with a presentation from Gene Beaudoin of the Mass. based development firm Saxon Partners. His powerpoint presentation was first viewed by the city council and school steering committee about ten months ago when the purchase of Rick Marcotte Central School was initially proposed.

To recap, Beaudoin proposed a two phase project comprised of City Center Commons and City Center Place. Phase one would involve creating “anchor” retail spaces on land currently used by the Marcotte Central School. This part of the proposal envisions several nationally recognized retail tenants that, according to a press release from Beaudoin, “would anchor the overall City Center project, creating Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenue for civic space that would be incorporated in Phase Two of the project.” Saxon Partners is prepared to offer 7 million dollars for the school.

Phase two, City Center Place, envisions the creation of intimately scaled retail shops along Market Street with residential housing above. Beaudoin showed streetscapes of Church Street in Burlington, Rockville, Maryland, and Clarendon, Virginia to illustrate his vision. Plans also could involve a library, a town green, gardens, and a festival street.

One slide, that was new to everyone in the room, proposed a new grade school on the Veterans Memorial Park property (formerly known as Dorset Park). Beaudoin suggested that over time, two or three schools could fit there by moving fields to alternate locations such as Wheeler or Underwood. Task force members had questions about Beaudoin’s preliminary figures and whether they included the permitting process and fit-up costs. Since Beaudoin didn’t have the information on hand, it will be provided at a later date.

Beaudoin said his tenants are anxious to proceed; the offer to buy Marcotte Central School was made ten months ago. “It (the process) can’t take two or three years,” Beaudoin said, “these tenants will land somewhere else...where, I don’t know. I prefer to buy farmland, not schools, but I can’t buy farmland anymore...If a tenant wants to go somewhere, we go.”
Survey Results and Narrowing of Options

At the January 21 meeting, the group began to determine criteria that would inform their decision making and the process of narrowing the eighteen options. These categories included school visions/aspirations, city visions/aspirations, disruption, costs after benefits, and the economic development advantage. In a survey created by member Abby Crocker, task force members were asked to score “big picture” school options that had been identified during previous meetings. The purpose of the survey was to efficiently quantify their collective thoughts and use the information to drive a more targeted discussion of specific options, with the ultimate goal of defining four specific options to bring to the community for further investigation.

Out of eighteen possibilities, the four options that emerged as contenders were the following:

• Option 1: 2 elementary schools (1 new, 1 existing) K-4 or K-5 with 1 middle and 1 high school.
• Option 2 consists of 2 elementary schools (1 new, 1 existing) with K-2 and 3-5 or 3-4 with 1 middle and 1 high school.

• Option 3 consists of 1 new elementary school as a K-4 or K-5 with 1 middle and 1 high school.

• Option 4 consists of 1 elementary school in the high school with 1 middle school and 1 high school (new build).

These results inspired robust discussion regarding whether the options are implementable, what the impact would be to children, how to build a new high school, and the operational and construction costs for each option. Superintendent David Young and his team are going to begin costing out the options with a goal of having the information available for presentation at the February 10 meeting.

The next meetings are scheduled for February 10 and February 17. A date for the community presentation has not yet been set. You can stay up to date on the task force’s work via Meeting minutes, agendas, and pertinent documents are posted weekly.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent