West

Newton agrees to buy former Aquinas College for $15.7 million

Site to house preschool program, relieve overcrowding in public schools

The former Aquinas College site.

The former Aquinas College site.

Mayor Setti Warren announced Friday that the city has agreed to buy the former Aquinas College property to house the city’s preschool program, and create additional space to relieve overcrowding and other issues at several elementary schools, including Lincoln-Eliot and Horace Mann.

The city is planning to spend $15.7 million to purchase the 5.7 acre site between Walnut Park and Jackson Road in the Nonantum and Newton Corner neighborhoods from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, according to Warren.

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Warren emphasized that the purchase as well as future renovations to the site will be done entirely within the city’s budget, and will not necessitate raising new taxes to fund the project.

“This solves facilities and overcrowding issues in multiple locations, and will positively impact students and families in Newton for generations to come,” school Superintendent David Fleishman said.

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School Committee Chairman Matt Hills agreed.

“This is so much more than just the purchase of a property,” he said. “This takes the next one or two major steps forward that we thought would play out over five to 10 years and accelerates them.”

The first step will be renovating the building at Aquinas to house and consolidate the city’s preschool program, now crowded into outdated spaces at the Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School and the school administration building.

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Fleishman said they are working on a plan to have the new preschool space at Aquinas ready for September, so an anticipated need to lease space to house new students can be avoided.

The second piece will be to do further renovations and add a gymnasium to be used as a new Lincoln-Eliot.

Lincoln-Eliot will then become a “swing space” school to be used as needed in the future, replacing Carr Elementary School, which underwent an approximately $13 million renovation last year. Carr is now being used as the city’s swing space to house students during renovations currently underway at Angier, and at Zervas and Cabot to begin over the next two years.

Once those three renovations are complete, Carr will be used as the new Horace-Mann Elementary School, and Horace-Mann will become a multi-generational community center, and space for year-round Parks and Recreation Department programming.

The entire project is planned to be complete by the fall of 2019, according to officials.

The purchase needs approval from the School Committee and Board of Aldermen before being finalized.

If approved and plans proceed as the mayor proposes, an anticipated “mid-level” expansion project at Pearce Elementary School and a major renovation at Lincoln-Eliot will not be needed.

In addition, severe overcrowding and facility issues at Horace-Mann will be addressed much sooner than anticipated.

A school committee task force looking now looking at redistricting students to alleviate overcrowding at a number of elementary schools by adding students to the newly renovated Angier to open in September, and then Zervas and Cabot in the following two years, will continue its work, Fleishman said.

“This will be another variable to look at and consider,” he said.

“This is a major strategic vision,” said Hills. “For the entire community, this is a major step forward.”

“I want to see this happen,” said Board of Alderman President Scott Lennon, adding that he gives the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston credit for staying the course and insisting the land be used for educational purchases, rather than selling to the highest bidder. “I would hope my colleagues on the board work with the ward aldermen and the mayor and take a look at how this will help with our longterm strategic plan.”

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