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Decision near on Brookline’s ninth elementary school

The Stop & Shop in Brookline Village is one of three sites being considered for the town’s ninth elementary school.
The Stop & Shop in Brookline Village is one of three sites being considered for the town’s ninth elementary school.Lane Turner/Globe Staff file

Like a certain presidential election, picking a location for a new Brookline school has been more about what residents oppose, rather than what they support.

Three options on the table for a new elementary school — at the Baldwin playground, next to the Baker School, or in Brookline Village — have each sparked ire from groups of residents around town.

But finding anyone who is enthusiastic about any of the choices might be difficult.

“They owe the town of Brookline the best job they can do,” said Charlie Robbins, a Hammond Street resident, of town officials. “But they’ve gone through several groups of consultants and I’m just amazed how the process has not still come to a final conclusion that I’m comfortable with.”

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Local officials are expected to pick the site for a new school on Oct. 13, said Susan Wolf Ditkoff, chairwoman of the School Committee, which together with the Board of Selectmen will vote on the location.

“I think there is a community consensus that we need a ninth elementary school and we have a consensus that no option is perfect,” Ditkoff said.

Officials said they need a new school ready for an expected surge of about 700 more students in grades kindergarten through 8 by 2020. Classrooms are reportedly already filled, and the district is using rented space and temporary modular rooms for space, said Ditkoff.

A new building could cost from $85 million to $145 million, depending on where the school is built and how it is designed.

Brookline will not seek financial help from the state’s School Building Authority, which provided financial reimbursement for three previous school projects in town, including ongoing work at the Devotion School.

Ditkoff said the agency wouldn’t assist with a new school while work at Devotion continues.

Neil Wishinsky, chairman of Brookline’s selectmen, said he hopes criticism of the proposed school sites ends after officials chose a location. Funding the school will require voters’ approval of a tax increase from a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion.

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“The community is going to have to come together, because we’re going to have to come to the voters to pay for it,” Wishinsky said.

In the past year, more than two dozen sites in Brookline have been eyed for the home of a future school.

Last October, a consultant reviewed 26 sites, and narrowed them to six, including Brookline Village, where the Stop & Shop would be converted into a mixed-use complex with a school and grocery store coexisting on the site.

But following feedback on those options during public hearings held from last fall to the spring, officials said they dropped five of the proposed sites, all except Brookline Village, and added in Baldwin and Baker.

At least one option that attracted support remains off the table.

The town’s website collected feedback on the site selection process from more than 240 people, including at least 75 people who supported a closer look at using a piece of the town-owned municipal golf course.

But in March, the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission opposed using the golf course. Its chairman, John Bain, said at the time that the “golf course is something the entire town can enjoy.”

“They were eliminated for cause, not because a group of neighbors were unhappy,” said Ditkoff of the dropped school sites.

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By last May, the public discussion focused on the Village site and two other options: the Baldwin site and the Baker School.

All three sparked concerns about increased traffic, parking, and loss of open space at Baldwin and Baker. While the Village site is in an urban area, some neighbors there worry about increased traffic, plus school construction that could make it more difficult to reach the supermarket. Ditkoff said officials are listening.

“I view the detractors as important voices because it gives us a clear sense of the things we need to invest in to make a great school,” she said.

Stephanie Sacharow, with two children attending the Baker School, is among about 300 people who have signed an online petition calling for a new school to be located at Baldwin.

Sacharow, a Wolcott Road resident, told the Globe there is too much traffic in her neighborhood and at the Baker School now, and the construction of a second school will make traffic worse and risk children’s safety.

Sacharow supposes she is “more opposed to having the school at Baker instead of being completely sold” on Baldwin, but noted Baldwin has more open space and would be a better choice.

Other residents think the changing site selection options suggest officials are moving too quickly.

Beverly Road resident Anita Fisher told the Globe that officials should “stop, go back, and rethink” the site options.

Fisher said she supported using a site on Amory Street, an option town officials dropped from consideration in the spring. She said that with years spent working on a problem, officials may rush to decide on Oct. 13.

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Both Hammond Street residents Charlie Robbins and Jon Gould said they support using the Baker School. But Gould suggested that not enough thought has gone into the site proposals.

“Where are the people? That’s where you try to build,” said Gould in an interview .

Meanwhile, Ditkoff said officials are already planning for a high school expansion project that would open within a year or so of the new K-8 school.

“The children are coming,” said Ditkoff, regardless of how quickly Brookline builds more school space.


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