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Newton weighs 3 plans to relieve overcrowding at Day Middle School

Posted by Sarah Thomas  October 13, 2010 09:20 AM

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Faced with the prospect of renovations to alleviate overcrowding at Day Middle School, the Newton School Committee will hold a special meeting to weigh the merits of three different plans to move the school's main entrance and add classroom space.

"We can get by with team sizes the way they are next year, but after that we're going to have to make a choice," said Sandy Guryan, assistant superintendent. "We can look at increasing team sizes beyond optimal levels and maybe getting by, or we're going to need to find a way to get more room."

The meeting will take place next Wednesday, October 20, at the Ed Center. The three plans, each of which would add six classrooms, were briefly introduced at last night's meeting by Mike Cronin, the district's operations chief.

"We asked the architects to leave the school's library intact, and to lower costs," Guryan said. "This is a jumping off point to discuss our priorities and our needs."

The least expensive plan would move the school's main entrance to Minot Road and add a new administrative suite and six classrooms, as well as new space in the cafeteria. It would cost $3.47 million.

Another option, which adds classrooms above the cafeteria, would cost $3.73 million.

The last option, which Cronin called the most optimal, would put new classrooms and a new corridor on the third floor and cost $3.77 million.

The plans can be viewed at the committee's website.

Deputy Superintendent Paul Stein said that principal Brian Turner had been meeting with parents and members of the community to discuss options for the school.

"He's just starting and he's really jumped in with both feet," Stein said.

Claire Sokoloff, the school committee chair, said she hoped to hear from teachers and other members of the community at the October 20 meeting.

However, Day is not the only school to be up against an enrollment crunch. Officials have identified other elementary schools with significant overcrowding and maintenance problems, and some have even less interior space than Day.

"We have space constraints at five of our elementary schools, and we're working with principals to discuss space use," said deputy superintendent Joe Russo. "But at some, like Zervas, there's simply no more space to use. We have to add more."

The issue of school crowding further complicated the discussion of student placement, with the student placement policy task force calling for a change in the district's policy on out-of-district placement for students in so-called 'choice zones.'

"We can't call them 'choice zones' if there really isn't a choice because of space constraints," Guryan said. "We recommend renaming them buffer zones." The task force suggested designating more buffer zones through town to allow more flexibility in student placement and alleviate overcrowding.

The new policy, which can be viewed on the school committee's website, will be discussed in a separate public meeting on October 25.

To top it all off, superintendent David Fleishman said in his report to the committee that the district's enrollment was growing, with 898 kindergarteners starting school in 2010 - 50 more than had been projected.

"It could be possible to have as many as 1,000 kids per grade by the time this year's kindergarteners are in middle school," Fleishman said.

School committee members asked Russo and Guryan to prioritize a list of the schools with the most dire space challenges to guide discussion at the October 20 meeting.

"If we decide we do want to renovate, and want to start construction in the fall of 2012, that means we need to have a plan in place by this winter," Guryan said. "And that's without having discussed the budget difficulties the district will be facing."

Mayor Setti Warren said that his office intends to release a projection of next year's budget early next week, which would give school committee members a sense of the amount of money to dedicate to renovation plans.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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