Hopkinton schools to consider facilities overhaul

  • The Hopkinton School Board begins its Aug. 22, 2017 meeting at the Maple Street School. Lola Duffort—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Hopkinton community will likely spend much of the upcoming year discussing how much to invest in a major school facilities overhaul for the district.

School board members received a report from facilities steering committee chairman Jay Burgess on Tuesday outlining a multi million-dollar package of recommended renovations.

Burgess said the district began talking about building projects after the New England Association of Schools and Colleges warned the district that certain building repairs were necessary in order to maintain their accreditation. At the time, the district’s enrollment, like the rest of the state, was also declining, and school officials were pondering whether to consolidate elementary schools. Since then, the district introduced full-day kindergarten, and enrollments have been on the rise several years running.

The committee’s report ranges from addressing basic accessibility and safety issues – like replacing failing roofs, making bathrooms ADA-compliant, adding a sprinkler system at Harold Martin School, and an asbestos abatement – to ideas for advancing the district’s educational mission. It also recommends moving sixth-graders from the Maple Street School to the middle and high school, for example, and building new STEM labs.

“The report is the work of almost 50 members of the community, including parents, educators, safety, security, financial and facility management professionals,” Burgess said. “The report is not a referendum on any particular project’s scope but purely a good-faith effort to make a set of recommendations.”

School board Chairwoman Elizabeth Durant emphasized that the district and board were just starting the conversation. The board’s next meeting, on Sept. 5, would give members and the public the opportunity to ask more detailed questions of the committee’s subchairs. At that time, she said, the board would also outline a timetable for wider public engagement.

“This is really just cracking the door open, if you will, to give Jay a chance to come and present the report to us,” she said, referring to Burgess. “The process is by no means near the end.”

One package of projects across the three schools – dealing mostly with deferred maintenance, safety, security and accessibility – would total an estimated $22.9 million. Moving the sixth grade to MHS would cost an additional estimated $2.2 million. A new STEM suite at the middle and high school would cost $5.2 million. Building a new auditorium at the middle and high school – and renovating the existing auditorium into a second gymnasium – would cost $7.1 million.

Burgess said that projected tax impacts for different scenarios should be ready for the board’s Sept. 5 meeting. The committee’s full report, including cost estimates and tax implications, will also be available in the next couple of days online at hopkintonschools.org.

New schedule

But many in the audience on Tuesday weren’t there to talk about building projects.

Rising Hopkinton senior Catherine O’Keeffe delivered a petition to the board – which she said 222 parents and students signed – pleading that the administration to reconsider next year’s bell schedule.

At issue is where to place the students’ advisory block, an open-ended, 45-minute period in which students can get extra help, seek advice, or make progress on their homework. Last year, it was at the end of the day. Next year, administrators planned to schedule it mid-day.

Students and parents who attended the meeting said the change would disadvantage athletes, who could leave school early for away games without missing class time thanks to the end-of-day advisory. They also argued that students were less likely to remain engaged in classwork at the end of the day.

“This isn’t a schedule we think will work for us,” Belle Sullivan, a rising senior and soccer player told the board.

Carrie Thompson, a Hopkinton parent, said the change would discourage students from getting ahead on their homework and mean more work would be taken home.

“I would encourage you and Mr. Kelley to please take a second look at the schedule,” she said.

Christopher Kelley, the school’s principal, said the school was prompted to change its bell schedule because an increase in enrollment created the need for two lunches instead of one.

But he said he’d definitely take a look at the suggestions O’Keeffe included with the petition, although some, like combining grades 7 through 9 for lunch, couldn’t work because of enrollment numbers.

“There’s lots of different factors that we have to consider when we take a look at that. Is it possible come Oct. 1 that we could put a new schedule in? It’s absolutely possible,” he said.


(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)