Metro

Brookline votes to expand search for new school site

BROOKLINE -- Town leaders will reexamine options for building a new grade K-8 school, after voters at a Special Town Meeting Tuesday night approved spending up to $1 million to study multiple locations.

More than 200 town meeting members approved the measure on a voice vote during a lengthy meeting held in the auditorium of Brookline High School. Separately, voters also authorized the Board of Selectmen to spend up to $16.4 million for a possible land taking to expand the high school on Cypress Street.

The action on the elementary school site selection came less than two months after town officials announced they were considering taking 7 acres of land from Pine Manor College to build the town’s ninth elementary school.

Advertisement

The decision sparked fierce backlash from the private college, and sharply divided local residents.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Tuesday’s vote will allow all involved “to take a deep breath,” said Selectmen chairman Neil Wishinsky.

The college will be included in the possible locations that will be evaluated over the next 90 to 120 days, officials said.

Pine Manor has opposed the land taking, citing the disruption it would bring to a college that primarily serves low-income and minority students in one of the state’s wealthiest towns.

But college president Tom O’Reilly lauded the town meeting vote, and said Pine Manor will help in the new site search.

Advertisement

“It has become a pivotal moment in Brookline’s history, and what Brookline stands for,” he said, addressing town meeting members. “I understand this is an enormous responsibility. But I have faith that (Town Meeting) and the entire Brookline community will do the right thing.”

The Town Meeting measure includes $300,000 to review legal, environmental, architectural, and other issues at possible sites, including the town’s Pierce and Baker schools and the Baldwin School property. The measure also allows for $400,000 to be spent on a feasibility study for a single location, and up to $700,000 for multiple sites to be reviewed.

Brookline officials say a new school is needed to help ease overcrowding in its

7,700-student school district. Some schools now are forced to hold classes in hallways or in rented modular classrooms. With enrollment growing, school gyms, libraries, cafeterias and other spaces also aren’t large enough to meet demand.

“We are out of space and we need to get a solution going now,” said Wishinsky.

Advertisement

Town meeting members took a step toward addressing overcrowding at Brookline High, which has about 2,000 students.

Town Meeting members voted to authorize the selectmen to spend $16.4 million to acquire a commercial property at 111 Cypress St. by eminent domain as part of a proposed expansion of the town’s nearby high school.

Last May, Brookline Town Meeting approved spending $1.85 million for design on the high school project.

The acquisition would allow the town to erect a building to meet the educational needs of the town’s ninth graders and offer upgraded science facilities, town officials said.

“This is the most ambitious and complex project that the town has ever taken on... it will serve this community well for many, many decades,” said Selectwoman Nancy Heller.

Kim Smith, a Town Meeting member from Brington Road, said neighbors support the use of the property for the high school.

“It’s not only the best site to expand Brookline High School, but also the best use of the site,” said Smith.

But the proposed taking angered Vantage Travel, which is proposing to build a 99-unit residential development, including 25 affordable units, under the state’s Chapter 40B housing law. The project is now under review by town boards.

“Our plans have been thrown into disarray without due process,” Vantage said in a statement issued late Tuesday night. “We will exercise our legal rights to fight this aggressive, shortsighted and selfish land grab by the town of Brookline.”

Laura Krantz of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com