The Lowell Elementary School site will not be considered as a possible location for a new Watertown High School, and the School Committee endorsed the idea of building a central location for the district’s preschool and pre-kindergarten programs.
The vote came Monday night, a week after the board discussed those two items during a public meeting. The decisions needed to be made so architects hired by the district can begin planning the renovation or rebuilding of Watertown’s three elementary schools.
Also Monday night, the School Committee approved a peak capacity for the elementary schools when the building project is complete.
“Ai3 did a great job in its memo and it’s presentation to us explaining why the site would not work – the site itself, the size of the site and the slope,” said Town Council President and School Committee member Mark Sideris.
Architects said the site would be smaller than recommended for a high school and the property slopes significantly, making it difficult to build a school without having many level changes.
The Committee voted unanimously to keep the Lowell School site an elementary school and move forward as part of the elementary school building project.
School Committee Chairman John Portz said the renovation or rebuilding of the high school is on a separate track, one in which the district is working with the state’s Massachusetts School Building Authority. The town will be reimbursed about half the cost by the state. The Town, however, will fully fund the elementary school projects.
Picking a new site for the high school, or using the same spot, will not happen for about a year, Portz said.
Early Childhood Center
The School Committee approved building an early childhood education center on the site of Hosmer Elementary School. The center would be home to all the district’s preschool and PreK classes.
Currently, each elementary school has a PreK class and the preschool is mostly located at Hosmer, with two of the seven classes located at former Phillips School.
District officials argued last week that having the program all in one place would allow teachers to collaborate more and would provide for more efficiency of scale. There would also be additional classes for both PreK and preschool.
Some parents whose children went through the PreK program said they like the fact that it is located on the campus where their child will attend elementary school. The students get used to going to the school and can interact with the older children.
Sideris said he wants to make sure the center does not add greatly to the cost of the elementary school building projects. Superintendent Dede Galdston said the district was already planning to build the schools to house both programs, with a PreK at each school.
“We would need the preschool classrooms. It would not take a lot to take three PreK classrooms and move them to the center,” Galdston said. “Instead of just having the preschool we will move in the PreK to the center.”
As the new elementary schools are bring designed School officials want to make sure they can handle increases in enrollment over the next 10-15 years. The peak enrollment was discussed last week. Over the next 10 years enrollment is projected only to increase slightly.
Several parents expressed concerns that the number of students will outpace projections due to the new housing developments and an influx of families with young children. Also, kids going to private or parochial schools may decide to return to the public schools to attend the newly rebuilt schools.
Galdston said the peak enrollment will be increased slightly to take precaution and avoid overcrowding.
When discussing the peak capacity last week school officials said they planned to have elementary schools that could fit 1,315 students, which is 10 percent above the capacity if the schools right now.
“We added an extra 10 percent, up to 1,446 students,” Galdston said.
Some of the rooms may be for specialty programs, such as a science center, but could be designed to be converted into a regular classroom if enrollments rise too high, Galdston said.
Sideris noted that if Watertown was working with the state on the elementary schools the district would not be allowed to build in extra capacity.
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said she wants to make sure the schools are “right sized” and are relatively equal in size. Right now Hosmer has hundreds more students than Lowell, which is bigger than the Cunniff.
Portz said that did not need to be part of the motion on Monday but would be something to stress to architects and members of the School Building Committee (which has yet to be formed).
The School Committee voted 7-0 to make the capacity enrollment 1,446.