To keep up with over the past decade and an even higher projected student population in the next, Braintree officials have kick-started a long-term construction plan by examining space needs and possible solutions at the K-5 school level.
The options presented on Monday night to the School Committee as part of a preliminary architectural review range from the unlikely, such as activating Eldridge, Monatiquot and Foster in their current conditions, to more favorable long-term approaches like additions and upgrades to all current elementary schools.
"People are meeting in closets and store rooms," said Steven Habeeb of Norwell-based Habeeb & Associates Architects, Inc. "I attended two of the six schools 45 years ago and they are virtually the same."
The firm examined all nine buildings – the six current and three unused schools – with an eye on how educators are using their spaces, what ideal classroom sizes are for kindergarten and grades 1-5, and which rooms a school should have for dedicated use, such as a gymnasium, cafeteria, full-time special education space and art and music rooms.
Educators at Braintree's elementary schools have increasingly turned to unconventional spaces such as closets, hallways and gymnasiums recently because of additional students, an issue that town and school officials have been . Neither Liberty nor Ross schools have a library, for example, and none have a dedicated music or art room.
By 2019, enrollment in Braintree's K-5 schools is expected to reach 2,672, up from 2,474 as of last November, according to the New England School Development Council. A significant portion of that growth will be at the kindergarten level – from 341 now to 372 by 2014.
The increased enrollment is "a problem that has some costs with it," Mayor Joseph Sullivan said. "But it's a good problem."
Based on an examination of school construction project costs provided by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), Habeeb & Associates determined that short-term solutions could cost between $21 million and $36 million, and long-term between $66 million and $123 million.
"This is the beginning of establishing a long-term program," Sullivan said. "We're looking at a decade of activity assuming we get the sign-off from the MSBA."
If Braintree did receive approval from the state, it could expect just under 50 percent of the overall cost to be covered by the authority, Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg said.
Braintree has completed several million dollars worth of renovations over the past two years at South and East middle schools and the elementary schools, all of which has been done within budget, Sullivan said, arguing that the town has improved its relationship with the authority. "Not every community can say that."
Committee Chair Shannon Hume said that MSBA officials will likely visit the Braintree schools soon. The next step will be selecting one of the options presented, or developing another, and then completing a more detailed feasibility study that will include the scope of expansion, upgrades or new construction and more thorough site reviews.
Of the space study's five options (plus sub-options) the following were recommended by Habeeb & Associates for their long-term viability:
- Re-activate and upgrade Eldridge, Foster and Monatiquot for use as kindergarten centers, plus additions to the current elementary schools
- Additions to five of the six elementary schools and upgrades to all six buildings
- Additions and upgrades to all six elementary schools
- Add gymnasiums to Flaherty and Ross and upgrade all six elementary schools
- Construct four new K-5 schools over a multi-year period – "This option will require re-districting but will result in parity among each of the districts. This option has the benefit of the least disruptions to the educational process during the construction as upgrades and additions will not be required to any of the existing schools."