In the link below is a list of options that I put together when we were discussing what to do about enrollment growth at the middle school level, along with some notes. These are options that were communicated to me either at a public meeting, through e-mail, or in a private conversation. It was meant to be an aggregation of all the options that people had mentioned, regardless of price or practical considerations. Since then several more ideas have surfaced at the Enrollment Task Force meetings (including building a 6th grade at the Crusher lot, bussing Thompson kids to Peirce, and keeping the modulars at Stratton for several more years to handle overflow at other schools). The forecast numbers listed here are the older numbers from Dr. McKibben we received this summer. Otherwise, the document is still useful.
At this time I think it is helpful to focus on options to handle our middle school enrollment challenges, and to include some tentative information about timelines and estimated costs. Here I include very rough estimates of what each option might cost. The Facilities Subcommittee (a subcommittee of the School Committee) is putting together a report with better numbers to bring to the next Enrollment Task Force meeting on February 23rd. The options currently under consideration include the following:
- 8th Grade to the H.S. (either in its own building, or in a building with 9th grade)
- Single grade at Gibbs (probably 6th)
- Second middle school at Gibbs
- Stacked permanent modulars at Ottoson
- Permanent addition at Ottoson that involves the Crusher wooded lot
- Permanent addition at Ottoson that does not involve the Crusher wooded lot
- Build on open land currently used by Arlington Rec.
Here are the main considerations that we need to keep in mind when looking at our options.
Some of the options can be put into place quicker than others. Modular classrooms, for example, can be built in a year. Bringing the 8th grade to the H.S., or building on an open space, may take five years or longer. Renovating the Gibbs or adding permanently to the Ottoson is likely to take two to three years.
Timing is important because the Middle School enrollment numbers are expected to increase very rapidly over the next few years. By the 2017/18 school year we are projected to add an additional 129 students, for a total of 1256 (actual # is 1258). By 2021/22, which is the earliest that the H.S. could be on-line, we are expected to add an additional 221 students, for a total of 1348. Options that take longer to implement will require that we add more temporary modular classrooms to Ottoson. We can be fairly confident in these forecasts because they are about students who are already at our elementary schools, though there is still some uncertainty about exact numbers. Over the last five years our retention rate between 5th and 6th grade has ranged from 90% to 97%. For planning purposes, we assume the five-year weighted average of 93.6%
There are some options that we know are feasible, while others are still uncertain. We know we can reclaim Gibbs for school use or add permanent construction to Ottoson. The cost of these options is uncertain, however. Gibbs is an old building that may involve more structural repairs than we realize, and Ottoson is built on a hard rocky foundation, which may add significantly to construction costs. Options that may not be feasible include building on the Crusher lot (it is currently classified as Open Space), putting permanent modulars at the Ottoson Parking lot (there may not be enough room), bringing the 8th grade to the H.S. (MSBA may say no), or appropriating recreational space (because of Open Space or site considerations).
The cost of our options varies widely. The least expensive option would be to add permanent modulars at Ottoson. However, permanent modulars do not last as long as permanent construction, which means that this option’s long term value is lower. There is also a question as to whether this option is possible, given space configurations. The most expensive options involve building a stand-alone school on an open space, either at the Crusher lot or on a space currently used for recreational activities, likely between 25 and 35 million. Building a new building would take the most time. There is a possibility that we could go to the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Association) for help with a new building, but that would delay the project even longer. Any option that takes a long time to implement would have to include the cost of adding additional modulars at Ottoson in the interim (likely 4-5 million). Renovating Gibbs, adding permanently to the Ottoson, or bringing 8th grade to the High School could cost between 15 and 30 million dollars, depending on the details and on whether we receive MSBA help. Any addition to Ottoson, whether modulars or permanent construction, would need to consider the cost of adding to the common spaces as well.
Each of our options has both educational advantages and disadvantages. A stand-alone 6th grade school could help with the transition between elementary school and middle school. On the other hand, a stand-alone 6th grade school would add to the number of transitions that students go through and might feel ‘stale’. A second middle school would extend our neighborhood-school model to create a more intimate middle school experience, but would potentially create inequity across the district. Bringing 8th grade to the H.S. campus could allow advanced 8th grade students to take H.S. level classes, but would mean that they would potentially be exposed to H.S. culture a year earlier. Moving a single grade out of the middle school would be easier on teachers and staff than splitting the school in two. Grade-level teachers at Ottoson work very closely with each other so a split across grade levels would pull these relationships apart. Adding to Ottoson would create one of the largest middle schools in the State. We would need to think creatively about how to structure such a large school to ensure the right educational outcomes. However, the bigger concerns about a very large middle school are around social and emotional issues. Middle school can be an emotionally difficult time for many students. The worry is that students would ‘feel lost’ at such a large school.