Town looks to rearrange school space and grades
Stoneham is pursuing a plan to expand an elementary school building and make it the new site of the town’s middle school.
The proposal emerged as the preferred option in a recently completed town feasibility study into how to address the needs of the 57-year-old middle school building, which officials say is worn and outmoded.
The middle school currently shares a campus on Central Street with the Central Elementary School. The preferred option calls for the middle school to relocate to the 56,858-square-foot Central School building and a proposed 79,715-square-foot addition. The existing middle school building would be razed.
The proposal is tied to a grade reconfiguration plan approved by the School Committee last month that would add the fifth grade to the existing sixth- to eighth-grade middle school. The Central School, one of the town’s four elementary schools for grades pre-K through 5, would cease operating and the other three elementary schools would switch to preK-4.
“It’s really a win-win situation,’’ said Board of Selectmen chairman R. Paul Rotondi, who serves on the Middle School Building Committee.
“The beauty of this specific plan is that not only do we solve the middle school building problem, we address the excess capacity in the other schools,’’ Rotondi said.
Stoneham worked with the architectural firm Tappé Associates and project manager Joslin Lesser + Associates to prepare the feasibility study, a required step in the town’s effort to secure partial reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority for the project.
Stoneham is seeking a vote by the authority’s board on Sept. 28 to accept the recommendations of the feasibility study and advance the project to schematic design, according to David Krawitz of Joslin Lesser.
Should the project advance, the town would seek to complete the schematic design in time for the board to vote in January on whether to provide state funding for the estimated $37.5 million to $39 million project. The authority has tentatively set a reimbursement rate of 50.58 percent, but the town hopes to qualify for added percentage points by meeting certain criteria.
If the authority agrees to the funding, the town would have to appropriate the full project amount within 120 days. School Superintendent Les Olson said the district envisions placing that request before a Special Town Meeting in February, followed by a vote on a debt exclusion - a temporary property tax increase -at the town election in April.
“It will always be a challenge,’’ Olson said of winning voter support for the tax increase. “But my sense is there is strong support for the project and my sense is that it’s the right time for the town to consider it.’’
Constructed in 1954, the middle school is “a building beloved by the students who went through there,’’ Olson said. “And it’s great having a school building in the downtown area. But all the systems after almost 60 years have outlived their usefulness.
“It doesn’t make sense to replace the heat, the light, the building insulation piece by piece. It’s time for a coordinated approach, especially if the state will step up and fund a significant portion of it,’’ Olson said.
Olson said the grade reconfiguration plan - including the proposed consolidation to three elementary schools - has generated concerns from some families and staff. But noting that the proposed new middle school would not open until the 2014-15 school year, he said there will be plenty of time to address those issues.
The study also looked at building a new middle school next to the high school on Franklin Street. But Olson said the preferred option was less expensive and would provide for a more manageable traffic situation.
Olson said the ability to use a relatively new building - the Central School opened in 2002 - also made the preferred option attractive. Only minor renovations would be needed to the building, all of them geared toward converting it to middle school use.