West

Location picked for Brookline’s ninth elementary school

Town officials Thursday picked a swath of publicly-owned land off Heath Street for the location of a proposed ninth elementary school.

The choice was made during a joint session of town selectmen and School Committee members after about a year of occasionally acrimonious debate about where to locate a school that officials said is needed to house growing numbers of students in town.

The chosen location is a 2.6-acre area that includes the small Baldwin school on Heath Street. The old school is currently used as a specialty high school program and for day care.

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Two other locations were considered — one would have added a second building to the current Baker School lot, and the other would have been a mixed-use plan in which a school shared space with a Stop & Shop supermarket on Harvard Street.

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Each of the three options reviewed by officials Thursday night generated complaints from residents, who criticized the locations over concerns about more traffic and effects on local neighborhoods. In the cases of Baldwin and Baker, some residents complained a school project would also mean the loss of some green space in Brookline.

“There’s no perfect site, and if there was a perfect site, we would have found it,” Neil Wishinsky, chairman of Brookline’s selectmen, told fellow officials last night. “It wouldn’t have taken this long.”

Officials predict the schools’ kindergarten through grade 8 population will grow by about 700 students by 2020, and said the town needs the new school. Currently, the district is using rental space and temporary structures as student classrooms.

Susan Wolf Ditkoff, chairwoman of the School Committee, along with four of her board members, supported the Stop & Shop location. But that spot wasn’t supported by selectmen, and the focus of discussion was spent on the Baldwin and Baker sites. Critics of the property, including Wishinsky, said development there would be too complicated.

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Critics of the Baker proposal focused on having the existing Baker school share the location with a new school building, even though the district would have operated them as separate schools.

“To me this is more of a quality of life issue — 1,600 kids on that one site is a huge number of kids,” said Selectwoman Nancy Daly, who supported using Baldwin.

Ultimately, majorities of both selectmen and the School Committee supported the Baldwin location.

According to a town estimate, a school project at the Baldwin site could cost between $85 million and $95 million. Town officials said Brookline will not seek state reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority for the work, which will need to be paid for by a voter-approved Proposition 2½ debt exclusion.

Brookline has already sought state help with three other projects, including ongoing work at the Devotion School, and Ditkoff has said the state wouldn’t assist until work at Devotion was finished.

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Ditkoff said she was concerned about the cost of a project. The town’s schools will also ask voters for additional funding to cover the cost of a related expansion of the high school and for school staff. The town had two previous overrides last year.

“I worry a lot about affordability for our residents,” said Ditkoff.

Residents who attended Thursday’s meeting appeared satisfied the town found a home for its proposed new school.

Brenda Marston said officials made the best choice of the options available. She said the Village plan would have hurt nearby businesses by a loss of parking, and using Baker would have put too many students in one location.

“That’s a lot of kids . . . I don’t think that makes sense,” said Marston.

Hilda Fitzgerald, who also opposed using the Village site, said it appeared some residents only learned about the school selection process very late, and as a decision neared, more residents began making their opinions known.

“I think we have a lot of very opinionated, very educated people in this town. And so people tend toward voicing their opinion very vocally and eloquently at times,” said Fitzgerald.

Juris Menke said that regardless of the decision, everything would turn out fine with a ninth school. But he wouldn’t have chosen Baldwin.

“I probably would go for Baker; it’s a better location,” Menke said.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.