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Hopkinton

Officials balance plans for elementary schools

After an unsuccessful attempt to win approval for a new school last year, Hopkinton officials are again addressing the town’s elementary school building needs. The Board of Selectmen has voted to form a new building committee, which will be charged with coming up with another plan to renovate the Center Elementary School or construct a replacement.

In addition, Special Town Meeting on Monday will decide whether to authorize spending $1.1 million to repair the leaky roof at the Elmwood Elementary School on Elm Street. If the measure passes by a two-thirds majority, it will be on a special election ballot on Dec. 3, when voters will decide whether to allow a temporary tax increase — through a debt-exclusion override of Proposition 2½ — to pay for it.

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Figures provided by the town’s Finance Department show that the annual tax bill on a $473,038 house, the average assessment in town, would increase by $26.46 during the first year of the 10-year bond.

Steven Hiersche, the district’s interim superintendent, said there is water damage and stains in the school’s ceilings from leaks, and Hurricane Sandy caused more damage.

“It wasn’t bad, it can be fixed, but it’s an indication that when there is severe weather we’re going to have problems,” he said.

The town spent $33,000 on roof repairs during the past two summers, and Hiersche said the goal is now to get the funding to put a new roof on the school next summer.

“It’s a 24-year-old roof with a 20-year warranty,” Board of Selectmen chairman Benjamin L. Palleiko said. “The roof has to be done, and I think there’s overwhelming community support for this.”

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He is hoping for a similar level of backing when the new plan to address the “functionally obsolete” Center School on Ash Street is completed. The original section of the school was built in the early 1900s, Palleiko said, and an addition was constructed in the 1950s.

“We want this to be community driven, with good, solid support and input from the start,” Palleiko said.

Last year, a plan to replace the school with a new facility on Fruit Street was turned down by Town Meeting.

This time, selectmen chose the board’s vice chairman, John M. Mosher, as their representative on the Elementary School Building Committee, and plan to appoint the remaining seats in the coming weeks. The panel will be filled by the school superintendent, a member from the School Committee and the town’s Appropriations Committee, the town manager, town engineer, and residents with backgrounds in engineering, architecture, or construction, and a community member “at large,” among others.

Residents interested in serving on the panel should contact the town manager’s office.

There is no set timeline for the committee, but Palleiko estimated that if things go on schedule a plan may be ready for Town Meeting in May 2014.

In the meantime, the Center School is too small and too old, he said, adding, “It’s a wonderful building, it just doesn’t meet the needs of the community going forward.’’

Many of the school’s rooms are too small for modern kindergarten specifications, there are problems with access for people with disabilities, the technical and electrical access is “sub-optimum,” and the heating system needs to be upgraded or replaced.

“We really want the committee to start from scratch,” Palleiko said, and determine whether upgrading the existing school, building a new school at the same location, or finding a new site is the best solution.

Changing to a districted elementary school system rather than the current configuration, however, is something he said is “off the table.”

The plan that was turned down last year called for a replacement school to be built across town as part of a switch to three neighborhood kindergarten-through-fifth-grade schools. Under the current system, all kindergarteners and first-graders go to Center, second- and third- graders go to Elmwood, and fourth- and fifth-graders attend the Hopkins School on Hayden Rowe Street, near the high school.

“The last time there were a lot of things that just didn’t go right, but there was a misread by the committee that the opinion of the townspeople was in favor of districting,” Palleiko said.

At the time, the plan had been endorsed by the School Committee and school administration, but Pallieko said officials have come to realize how important the community considers having students from across town attending classes together from their first day of school.

“There was concern from many people about the fabric of our community changing,” he said.

The timing of the vote, with the economy in a recession, and issues with the proposed location on Fruit Street were also problematic, Palleiko said.

“This is a town that is very proud of our schools,” he said. “And the town broadly acknowledges that we need to address this.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at ishdell@aol.com.

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