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Hopkinton

Town Meeting faces decision on school plan

The first step to a new Center School in Hopkinton will be in the hands of Town Meeting voters Monday night, when they will decide whether to spend up to $600,000 for a comprehensive feasibility study that is not only required for state funding, “but is sound business practice,” according to town officials.

If the article is turned down, progress would again be stalled toward renovating or replacing the 85-year-old Ash Street school that has been eyed for improvement for the past several years, officials said. “Without this appropriation, we stay in the same situation we are in today,” said the chairman of the town’s Elementary School Building Committee, Joe Markey.

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“We stay with a building that is not meeting the educational program needs of the district, that will continue to deteriorate and cost the district money, and in the near future may not meet the needs of the K-1 population that it serves.”

Two years ago, Special Town Meeting shot down plans to build a $38 million school on town-owned land on Fruit Street. The plan also called for changing how students are assigned to the town’s elementary schools, using a district model based on where they live. Currently, all kindergartners and first-graders go to the Center School, second- and third-graders attend the Elmwood School, and fourth- and fifth-graders go to the Hopkins School.

While Markey and other officials are reluctant to revisit that failure, they do point out the differences this time around.

The School Committee recently reaffirmed its vote that “a nondistricted facility” would be the project’s goal, according to an e-mail from chairwoman Nancy Burdick. She also wrote that the goal will be to move the integrated prekindergarten program from its location in the middle school to the new facility, and have enough space to allow all families the option of full-day kindergarten.

The town has also established a new board, the Permanent Building Committee, since the failed vote. The committee has spent considerable time assessing the conditions of all town-owned properties.

“There is really no opportunity, in their minds, to make some relatively small fixes and turn this into a building that is usable for our children going forward,” Board of Selectmen chairman Benjamin Palleiko said in a presentation broadcast on HCAM-TV.

Markey and his committee, along with members of the Board of Selectmen and School Committee, also said they are committed to transparency, and will recruit citizen participation throughout the process.

“Community engagement is a critical part of our work,” Markey said.

He said by the time a detailed plan for either renovating the existing school or building a new facility is before Town Meeting, at the earliest next spring, residents will have had their say and “will recognize it and support the plan as their own.”

Markey said he has experience bringing divergent groups together, citing his work building a community consensus around the Legacy Farms mixed-use development in town while serving on the Planning Board.

“This kind of community engagement is something I’m comfortable with,” he said.

The options for the project include gutting and rebuilding the existing school, building a new school at the Ash Street location in the center of town, and building a new school at a new location.

Markey said the feasibility study would include a site recommendation for a new school if that is determined to be the best option.

In addition to location, Markey said, his committee will also look for consensus on design before moving toward a Town Meeting vote.

The $600,000 price tag for the feasibility study provides $350,000 to $400,000 for the architectural design, $100,000 to $150,000 for a project manager, and $50,000 for testing, according to information provided by the Elementary School Building Committee, School Committee, and selectmen.

Some information from the feasibility study done for the last Center School building project can be used, but the bulk of that information will not apply to the new project, according to Markey.

The town is applying for funds from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and has already submitted a statement of interest, but will not know whether it will receive funding, or how much, until perhaps next September, according to Mike Shepard, vice chairman of the Elementary School Building Committee.

And while the town is looking to the state agency for funds, it is not deferring to it in deciding what is best for Hopkinton, according to Markey.

Doing the feasibility study, which is typically required by the state agency, is a sound business practice, he said.

“The solution for the Center School will not be driven by what the experts think we need,” Markey said. “We will take their advice, but what happens with the Center School will be driven by what the community wants as well.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.
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