Major renovations are planned for all three of Watertown’s elementary schools, but Hosmer School will go through the most significant changes, and endure the longest construction period.
Wednesday night, the School Building Committee visited Hosmer to share the latest plans and hear from parents and neighbors. Concerns included loss of green space and play area, as well as the impact of construction on the students.
The school is first up on the schedule of renovations, and current plans call for demolishing the current classroom wing and building a new building on the Mt. Auburn Street side of the current cafeteria/gymnasium building. The site, however, will be impacted through the span of all the school renovations because, before it is demolished, the current classroom building will serve as swing space for Lowell and Cunniff students while their schools are renovated.
Superintendent Dede Galdston explained that the goal is to build a state-of-the-art school that where students can be prepared for life in the 21st century. The current building, from the 1950s, was built for the age of industrial education, she said, when students sat in rows and teachers delivered content to the entire class at once. The new building will have opportunities for students to learn in large and small groups, collaborate on projects, and even learn outside the walls of the school.
Architect Scott Dunlap of Ai3 said several scenarios were considered, including renovating the current classroom building (called the Z shaped building), but said that building cannot be renovated the way designers would like.
“We are incredibly limited with what we can do in the Z shaped building to transform it,” Dunlap said. “It would have all the small classrooms and narrow hallways and no flexibility.”
The new building, in the current preferred plan, would push 60 feet into the current playground and field space between the cafeteria and Mt. Auburn Street, Dunlap said.
Several parents and neighbors said they worry about losing playground space, especially during the construction period.
At the end of the project, Dunlap said, the Z shaped building will be torn down and a new field and parking area will be created on the spot between the cafeteria/gym building and Chauncey Street. During construction, some parts of the property will be used for construction staging, Dunlap said.
“We will create a temporary play ground area while the site is built out,” Dunlap said.
Many in attendance noted the long period that Hosmer will be impacted by the construction.
“My son will start kindergarten in the first year of the project, and he will complete fourth grade when it is finished,” said future Hosmer parent Jason Pennino. “It is a five year project.”
In the current plan, construction of the new building is slated to begin in late 2019 or early 2020, and finish in the spring of 2021. The renovation of the current buildings will take place from mid-2020 to the spring of 2021.
In the summer of 2021, students from Lowell School will move into the Z shaped building while their school is renovated (about 8 months). The following summer, 2022, Cunniff School students will move into the Z shaped building during renovation on their campus, slated to take about 10 months.
After Cunniff students move out of the Z shaped building, at the end of 2022, the building will be demolished, Dunlap said, which will take about two months, and then the area will be landscaped.
Town Council President Mark Sideris, who chairs the School Building Committee, said that there will be some growing pains during the construction projects.
“In order to provide quality educational facilities we have to haver sacrifices during the project,” Sideris said. “It is not going to be easy here, it will not be easy at Cunniff or Lowell, and it will not be easy at the High School. We are trying to minimize the impact.”
People also worried about the traffic coming to the school for drop offs and pick ups when there are not one, but two schools on the site.
“I live across from the school and drop offs can be pretty chaotic,” said resident Jacob Bloom. “I have seen numerous instances of people parking across driveway because all the parking spots are taken, and double parking everywhere.”
Dunlap said he has done school projects across the country and around the world, and the drop off/pick up times are chaotic everywhere. He hopes to minimize the chaos by creating drop off/pick up areas on Concord Avenue, and on the other side, on Hancock and Winthrop streets.
One resident asked if school officials are considering busing students from Lowell and Cunniff, which would cut down the extra vehicles coming to the school. When the School Building Committee went to Cunniff last week, some parents asked about buses, too, Sideris said. He expects that subject to be discussed.
Early Education Center
After the construction, the school will actually be smaller, and capacity will be added to Lowell School. Both schools will have a capacity of 550 students. However, Hosmer will also be the location of the district’s preschool/pre-kindergarten program.
Currently, there are preK classes at each school, and the preschool is split between Hosmer and the Phillips School (across from Watertown High School). When the renovation is done, however, the district’s Early Education Center, with preschool and Pre-K classes, will be located at Hosmer. The capacity will be 200 students, and they will be located in the current cafeteria/gymnasium building.
Superintendent Dede Galdston said there will be a total of 13 classes, seven more than what is there now (one preK and five preschool). The two preK classes on other campuses (one at Cunniff and one at Lowell) and two other preschool classes will move over the Hosmer. Plus, two preK classes will be added along with one preschool class. Dunlap said there will be a two-story addition, with about 1,000 sq. ft. of space, onto the cafeteria/gymnasium building to add to the current classrooms.
The School Building Committee will hold the third campus meeting at Lowell School on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 6 p.m. Find out more about the projects and see background materials at watertownschoolsproject.com