Brookline Town Meeting approves design money for two K-8 school projects
Brookline Town Meeting members approved design money for two public school projects Thursday night, moving forward with work officials said is needed to provide more space for the town’s kindergarten to grade 8 students.
The two separate votes each approved $1.5 million for schematic designs for a new Driscoll School and a ninth school building on the present site of the Baldwin School. Both will serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Town Meeting members also approved $4.7 million for the purchase of about 8,200 square feet of land on Oak Street for the ninth school project. The Oak Street property abuts the existing 1.4 acre Baldwin School site, according to the town.
Members also approved amendments to both proposals that prohibit funding the design of fossil fuel-operated building systems in both schools to encourage the use of renewable energy.
Members rejected an amendment by John Doggett, a member of the town’s Advisory Committee, who proposed funding a study on the feasibility of expansion projects at existing school buildings instead of funding design work for the ninth school project.
Brookline voters will ultimately decide at the ballot box whether to approve Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusions to fund construction for both school projects, according to Town Manager Mel Kleckner.
The proposed Driscoll School project would erect a roughly 155,000-square foot building to replace the existing 98,000-square foot Driscoll School near Washington Square, according to a feasibility report on Driscoll. The estimated cost of the design ranges from $93 million to $105 million.
The existing Driscoll School currently enrolls 614 students, up from 366 students in 2005-2006, according to a Nov. 27 memo on overcrowding by Superintendent Andrew Bott. The proposed new school would be designed to handle about 800 students.
The proposed ninth school project would erect a roughly 108,000-square-foot building for 420 to 450 students that would cost an estimated $72 million to $82 million, according to a ninth school feasibility report. (The purchase of the Oak Street property is separate from the building’s estimated cost.)
That project would also renovate the existing Baldwin School, which now houses a high school program for 32 students and a daycare for the children of school employees, according to the report.
The new schools are part of efforts to help Brookline cope with limited space in its existing school buildings, officials said.
There are 5,503 K-8 students in Brookline’s public schools in the 2018-2019 school year, up from 3,904 in 2005-2006, according to Bott’s memo.
The increase of 1,599 K-8 students over that period is the equivalent of four full K-8 schools, he said, and has helped contribute to overcrowding in the district’s existing buildings.
Along with the Driscoll and ninth school projects, local officials are also seeking financial help from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to support an expansion project at the Pierce School. And in May, voters approved a debt exclusion to fund a $205.6 million expansion and renovation of Brookline High School.
But even with Town Meeting’s approvals to design both the Driscoll and ninth school projects, challenges remain. Late last month, 11 residents opposed to building a new school on the Baldwin site filed a lawsuit in Norfolk Superior Court, alleging town officials violated the state Open Meeting Law, the state public records law, and made “unlawful expenditures” on the project, according to the complaint.
The suit seeks a permanent injunction from making any further expenditures on a schematic design for a ninth school at Baldwin, and seeks orders to follow the Open Meeting Law and the public records law.
Attorney Stephen Wald, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said the town’s Select Board and School Committee have failed to follow the required process to ensure due diligence in planning the school project.
He said officials have not resolved issues with the project, including parking and restrictions on land use, the necessity of buying land on Oak Street, and whether enrollment projections support the need for a new school at the Baldwin site.
“The complaint in our lawsuit I think demonstrates there has been a lot of wasted money and time pursuing projects that are unfeasible,” Wald said.
Along with the Select Board, School Committee, town clerk Patrick Ward, and town finance director/treasurer Jeana Franconi, the suit names as defendants Jonathan Levi Architects, the town’s consultant working on the project, and Oak Street residents Kenneth and Robin Levine, Jonathan and Adriene Waks, and Fumito and Joriko Ichinose, who agreed to sell their land to the town.
Joslin Murphy, Brookline’s town counsel, said in an e-mail that the lawsuit “was anticipated, and the allegations in the complaint are unproven.”
Jonathan Waks declined comment when reached by phone. The other residents named as defendants and Jonathan Levi Architects could not be reached for comment.
The schools’ space issues are the focus of a pair of complaints recently filed with state and federal education agencies. Resident Linda Monach alleges that students receive special education services using “sub-standard” spaces in seven of the town’s eight K-8 schools. The remaining building — the Coolidge Corner School — recently underwent a renovation project and was not included in the complaints, Monach said.
Monach, the parent of two children with disabilities, filed the complaints with the US Department of Education and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Murphy, the town attorney, said she would evaluate the civil rights complaints when they are received by the town. She said a 2014 review by the state found the district was in compliance with a standard for special education facilities and classrooms.
Monach supports building a ninth school at Baldwin, along with projects at Driscoll and Pierce, as a means to add more space for students, including those with disabilities, Monach said.
“It’s time to do something for these kids,” Monach said.