Monday night, Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald shared a plan to renovate rooms at the Phillips School to move pre-school classes to free up spaces at an elementary school to relieve the enrollment pressures at all three elementary schools.
The shuffling of plans is a complicated one, Fitzgerald explained at the School Committee Building and Grounds Subcommittee meeting. It begins with the Early Steps Preschool program from Hosmer School to the Phillips Building.
- Three classes will go into a renovated maintenance area on the first floor
- one class will go into a room used as a conference room by the Watertown Public Schools
- a full-day preschool class and a Connections class (which includes mainstream and special needs students) will use two classrooms that had been used by the Growing Places preschool before it moved out
The rooms at Hosmer that had been used for the preschool will house four classes, including some from other schools:
- a Lowell Pre-K class,
- a Cunniff Pre-K class
- a Cunniff kindergarten
- a Hosmer English Language Learner (ELL) class
- one extra room at Hosmer will remain and could take another room if enrollment keeps growing
Meanwhile, the spaces freed up at the elementary schools will allow for additional classes.
- the Lowell Pre-K room will become a new first grade classroom
- the Cunniff Pre-K room will become a special education classroom
- the Cunniff kindergarten room will become a new third grade classroom
- the Hosmer ELL room will become a new fourth grade classroom
Fitzgerald said she would rather spend money on property the district owned, rather than renting space or modular classrooms. She added that she expects the Phillips School – which has two more floors – to become a school down the line as the district grows.
She also said that the district’s did not receive any proposals when it request for bids on modular classrooms.
The plan can be completed and ready for the beginning of school in September, but it will be a tight schedule, said Charles Kellner, director of Business Services.
The School Committee’s Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee approved recommending the concept and approved spending $70,000 on preliminary architectural plans on Monday.The total project cost would be $530,000. Kellner said the district has the money for the designs in the operating budget right now.
The matter did could not wait for the full School Committee to vote because there is a very aggressive construction schedule, Kellner said.
Under the proposed schedule drawn up by Gienapp Design, project designs would be completed by mid-June, and bids would go out at that time, too. Bids would be reviewed and contracts would be awarded by mid-July. Work would begin in mid-July and would take about 6 weeks, win an extra week to reach final completion on Sept. 2.
Parents and School Committee members at the meeting had concerns about issues like places for the children to play and have recess at Phillips, where they can eat and a nurse.
Students would also be able to share the gym with the Senior Center.
“We look at that as a wonderful opportunity for intergenerational activities,” Fitzgerald said.
The site also has grassy areas that could be fenced in for use as a play area for children. School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer suggested meeting with abutters to the school to explain what is going on.
Food will be prepared off-site and brought in, Kellner said.
A half-time nurse will be added to the district next year, and that nurse would serve the classes at the Phillips, Fitzgerald said. She noted, that the person would not always be on site, but if there is an emergency there is a full-time nurse across the street at Watertown High School.
Hsu-Balzer said she wants to know all the expenses, not just the construction costs, associated with the plan – including staffing, transportation and more.
Fitzgerald said she would have a report at the June 6 School Committee meeting. Also at that meeting, she expects Decision Insite, the district’s demographic consultant, to present its projections for the enrollment in the fall of 2016.