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Brookline officials aim at multiple school expansion projects that could cost as much as $300m

Posted by Brock Parker  August 12, 2013 10:11 PM

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The frequently controversial debate over how Brookline should address surging public school enrollment reached a key vote Monday as a committee recommended that the high school and multiple Kindergarten through 8th grade schools be expanded.

The Committee on Brookline School Population and Capital Expenditures, referred to as B-SPACE, voted 8-0 to recommend to the school committee that existing schools be expanded.

Though the cost of the projects has not been determined, early estimates by town officials put the range between $150 million to $300 million, and the town is establishing a committee to study a Proposition 2 ½ override that would go before voters to fund the expansions.

“This is a momentous occasion,” said committee member Ken Goldstein of the vote Monday night.

Public school enrollment has jumped about 25 percent in Brookline since the 2004-2005 school year, bringing the total number of students to more than 7,200 and causing significant overcrowding problems in the schools. The surge has been especially steep in the early grades and as those large classes advance into higher grades officials say more space will be needed at Brookline High School.

The vote Monday came after months of meetings often packed with parents and residents wearing green, blue or red colors to show their opposition to options being considered by the committee.

One proposal that had drawn fervent opposition, re-opening the Old Lincoln School along Route 9 as a permanent new Kindergarten through 8th grade school, was still on the table Monday night before the final vote.

While the committee opted to expand other schools, they decided only to recommend that the Old Lincoln School be considered for temporary space, or space where students can be housed while their permanent school buildings are being renovated. The committee also recommended that the old school on Route 9 could be used as a permanent space to expand Brookline High School.

Previously the committee had voted against controversial proposals to build a new school on part of Amory Park or at a Chestnut Hill location near the Baldwin School that would have required a massive redistricting of where students go to school.

The committee had also been considering changing the school district’s grade configuration and building a new 7-12 grade school. But Town Administrator Mel Kleckner said Monday that the town received a letter from the Massachusetts School Building Authority saying that if the town opted to change its configuration of grades in the district's schools, than the state would have to reconsider its funding for town projects, including a $90 million expansion of the Devotion School already in the planning stages.

Instead of re-configuring the grades at each school, the committee is recommending that the maximum expansions at the Driscoll and Devotions schools be considered. The committee also recommended the school committee look into various types of expansions at other schools, including the Lawrence, Heath, or Baker schools if needed.

--Brock.globe@gmail.com

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