Cunniff Elementary Moving to Waltham Site Next Fall, Speeding Up New Building

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When Cunniff Elementary School students return to class in September, they will attend classes at a different campus, in a different city. The move will allow the current school to be torn down and replaced by a new building sooner and will save the district money.

Cunniff’s temporary home will be the St. Jude’s School, a former parochial school in Waltham. Watertown school officials came to an agreement with the Boston Archdiocese to lease the school during Watertown’s school building project, known as Building for the Future.

Superintendent Dede Galdston announced the move on Wednesday, both to the Cunniff community and at the School Building Committee. She said it will be a benefit for the school.

“It seemed like not just a good option, but a great option,” Galdston said. “We are moving forward with the option beginning the 2020-21 school year. It will allow the project to finish two years earlier, maybe three.”

By cutting down the construction time, the project will cost less.

“Because of (construction cost) escalation, there is cost savings upward of $1 million or more (for Cunniff),” Galdston said.

Owner Project Manager Vivian Varbedian said that the estimated cost for Cunniff School is now between $35 million and $36 million, based on reports from two different cost estimating firms. The total cost of the three school is between $131.27 million and $134.75 million, Varbedian said, while the previous estimate — before the plan to move to St. Jude’s — was $137.6 million.

School officials began exploring the possibility of leasing St. Jude’s when the school closed in September, Galdston said.

The previous plan called for Cunniff students to move to Hosmer Elementary School’s current classroom building after the new building was completed at Hosmer. Now, Cunniff can be rebuilt at the same time as Hosmer, with both projects beginning after school ends in June, Galdston said.

Galdston also noted that St. Jude’s is 1.1 miles away from Cunniff, compared to the 2 mile distance to Hosmer. Busing will be provided for students to the new location at 147 Main St. in Waltham.

Cunniff West, as Galdston referred to the new campus, has 16 classrooms, which is one more than number of classes at Cunniff this year. St. Jude’s has ample cafeteria and gymnasium space, Galdston said. The school also has plenty of parking, which garnered applause when details of the move were announced to the Cunniff staff on Wednesday, Galdston said.

Some renovations will be necessary to prepare the school to become Cunniff West, including technology upgrades and possibly replacing flooring, Galdston said.

Cunniff will continue to run before school and Extended Day programs at the new location, Galdston said. One program, the PreK class, will not be held there.

All the district’s PreK and preschool classes will move to the Phillips Building on Common Street beginning in the fall of 2020 to create an Early Childhood Center. After construction at Hosmer is complete, the Early Childhood Center will move into new facilities at that school.

The move to St. Jude’s will also ease the impact on Hosmer, which would have served as the swing space for first Cunniff, and then Lowell Elementary School while their schools underwent construction.

“With 300 (Cunniff) students along with 550 at Hosmer, it would be a lot for the site,” Galdston said.

Project Architect Scott Dunlap said that St. Jude’s will also serve as swing space for Lowell, with work scheduled to begin in 2022, after Cunniff is complete.

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