A recent state survey of Braintree schools shows that most have average or above environments and space utilization, though building conditions and classroom sizes stand out as an issue.
School committee members, at last week's meeting, acknowledged the conclusions of the Massachusetts School Building Authority but said the town is working in a positive direction and stressed that the results do not include renovations done at last year nor additional upcoming repairs.
"We don't need a report from the MSBA to tell us we need to work on our schools," Mayor Joseph Sullivan said at a May 9 meeting. "While we accept the findings of this... We know that we have tried to pay attention to the physical environment of our schools."
The MSBA's 2010 Needs Survey is a follow-up to a 2005 report that created a statewide database of school buildings as mandated by Massachusetts law. Last year a private firm hired by the authority assessed more than 1,750 public K-12 schools. Overall for the state, the survey found generally good conditions, with significant improvements since 2005.
Throughout Massachusetts, there is "little evidence of widespread overcrowding," according to the MSBA, with the more prevalent problem actually being an under-utilization of space. But in Braintree, and have made steps to address overcrowding, especially in the elementary schools.
Square footage of building space per student in Braintree schools is especially low in some cases, such as and schools. There students have just 71 and 97 square feet, compared to what school officials say is a recommendation of 163 square feet. The high school is the one building that has some extra space, with 250 square feet per student.
Braintree High also has the lowest ratio of students per classroom at 12. averaged the highest at 21, while the other five elementary schools had ratios between 17 and 20. averaged 14 and South 16.
"They are trying to quantify it," Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg said. "They are trying to look at us and look at everybody else and see who really needs help."
Last summer the town spent $3 million on upgrades to windows, heating, lights and more at South Middle School – work not reflected in this survey. That spending was a match by the MSBA combined with town money. Braintree has also received the more in renovations to East, , Highlands and .
There has been some discussion among town officials about constructing a new school and/or reopening Eldridge or Monatiquot, which were closed in 2004. But in the meantime, the school department has put forward $700,000 in capital spending, including the purchase of modular classrooms the town has been renting at Highlands and South for extra space, renovations of the high school gymnasium and ceiling, lighting, heating and air conditioning upgrades.
On general environment, all Braintree schools received top grades of one or two, a significant accomplishment, school committee chair David Cunningham said at last week's meeting, considering the last building constructed was in 1972 (high school) and the schools date back to 1912 (Hollis).
"The building do have legs, but they need a lot of modern upgrades," Cunningham said. "We've made huge, huge strides. I'm really positive about the direction we're going."