Reading Preschoolers and Kindergartners May Have Separate School

And other news from Tuesday night's selectmen meeting.

Future Reading preschoolers and kindergarteners from the Eaton and Barrows Elementary School may one day have a school of their own. The School Committee and Board of Selectmen are working to buy the building at 172A Woburn St., next to St. Agnes Church, for that purpose.

The School Committee voted this fall to offer free, full day kindergarten to all Reading kindergartners at an unspecified future date and has been looking for space for those students.

The purchase price for the Woburn Street building: $1.4 million. The building would also need renovation.

No estimate of the cost per taxpayer was given Tuesday night at a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and School Committee. To calculate that figure, you’d have to know the total cost of the project and how long the town would borrow the money for the project, Assistant Town Manger and Finance Director Robert LeLacheur told Patch after the meeting. Renovation figures will be determined by August, according to Superintendent John Doherty.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the School Committee voted to authorize Doherty to sign the Letter of Intent, a precursor to a Purchase and Sale agreement, to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

The selectmen also approved the Letter of Intent, 4-0. Selectman Marsie West was absent.

Before the property changes hands, both Town Meeting and residents would have to approve the money to pay for the property and renovations. Operational costs should also be factored in, said Selectman John Arena.

The anticipated closing date of the sale is this coming Nov. 1, according to the letter.

Town Meeting would have to approve a warrant article this coming September to authorize the borrowing.

Voters would have to approve a debt exclusion – a tax increase specifically to cover the cost of the building and renovations -- at a special election to be held in September or October.

The sale is subject to several conditions.

One “critical issue,” according to Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner, is that the town would own and maintain the parking area behind the building but make parking there available to the seller for services on Saturdays, Sundays, Christmas Day and other mutually-agreed on times.

The church would retain the exclusive right to use 45 parking spaces on the subject property. There are 61 spaces there now. Because the seller would lose 16 spaces, the church requires the town to receive a “formal determination or variance” from the town’s zoning officer or Zoning Board of Appeals that the number of parking spaces for the church meets the town zoning requirement.

The buyer – the town – would also have to “develop plans and work with the seller to address long-standing issues related to the difficult access” to the property, “which also serves as access/egress for the St. Agnes Church site.”

The church could use the building at no cost “for CCD and similar classes” after the needs of the town’s School Department and town are addressed.

The property could not be used for 90 years from when the sale deed is recorded for certain uses:  a church, chapel or other house or worship; abortion clinic; professional counseling services which advocates abortion or euthanasia; any embryonic stem cell research; or as a charter school.

The school department needs space, Doherty said Tuesday, because since the town’s fifth elementary school, Wood End, was built in 2005, “significant program changes” have gobbled up space at the town’s elementary schools. The School Committee looked at a variety of options to provide more space.

The best option, Doherty said, for the town and for education: to renovate an existing building. The building at 172A Woburn St. used to be a school, he said.

The current lease on the property expires on June 30, according to Hechenbleikner.

Proceeds from the sale would go to the local parish, he said.

The 45,000-square-foot building has been home to Reading Gymnastics Academy for 31 years, according to its President and CEO Leslie McGonagle. The gymnastics school has been looking to expand its space and hours even before the school department expressed interest in the building, McGonagle told Patch yesterday.

At its new location at 35 Concord St., just over the North Reading line, the academy will be able to operate seven days a week, McGonagle said. The school is closed Sundays and after 3 p.m. Saturdays because it shares a parking lot with the church, she said.

The school will no longer be restricted to a certain number of students per hour, either, McGonagle noted.

McGonagle anticipates her school will move at the end of June. Summer camp will start July 8, she said, in the North Reading location.

AQ April 25, 2013 at 06:12 PM
How about we stop building these large apartment complexes? Or contractors having the run of this town with new construction. not every piece of land needs to be occupied. make it easier to open business in reading? Legit business which could bring good tax dollars to this town. I agree with what has been posted above regarding parking, outdoor space....big one is drop off/pick up. What about mentoring options...not sure if that occurs now(ie 5th graders doing story time,etc) but those types of interactions are a win win and a separate school just seems so isolating for kids of an age who are ready(and well prepared by preschools these days) for that environment. Logistically a nightmare.....
Greedy PublicEmployee April 25, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Who asked the School Committee to do this? Is there a list of Reading residents (taxpayers) who have requested this facility?
mary m April 25, 2013 at 07:27 PM
My understanding is the state was offering a small grant and Reading jumped all over it and the folks who don't want to pay for their kids nursery, per-k, and other half of the K day are all for it. Unfortunately, grants have an end date and this plan comes with HUGE funding, budget and tax implications that will gomon forever; and it does not appear than anyone is bringing these numbers (separate from acquisition and rehab costs) into the forefront of the discussion. Sadly, much like the library, the few who are for the proposal will far outnumber the fully informed who will actually show up to vote. A large percentage of Reading's tax paying homeowners do not get the local paper, do not have young children in the school system and do not see or hear local news (wish for the Atlantic) and are not aware that local tax based issues are on the ballot.
M April 25, 2013 at 07:27 PM
If it were possible to stop these large apartment complexes we could, but, we are powerless because we don't yet meet the 10% affordability requirements of the state's 40B law. Of course, if the open space were developed into something else first, such as a viable business, might prevent housing going there in the 1st place. But, 40b would even permit you to buy a single family home on 1 acre, raze it, and turn it into a multi-story building with 10-20 condos. The thing is, if you look at projected enrollments, there is not really a huge increase that one would think we'd a new bldg. It's more, as Doherty said, curriculum changes: there are more special ed students who need dedicated space w/in schools, full day K is not mandated but becoming the norm in this state (offered for free by 70% of districts statewide), new common core req'ts for K and all grades require so much new in way of academics that might not be teachable in the 2 1/2 hours that half day is allotted, etc. Not saying I agree with all the reasons, but just repeating what I've heard put forth, in this district and others, of past couple of years.
True Blue April 26, 2013 at 12:36 AM
The traffic/parking is going to be a major problem for this site. Most of the on the street parking is already occupied by commuters for the train. Plus, Woburn St is very busy in the AM.
Catholic Ed April 26, 2013 at 01:58 AM
Mary M, I take back my comment. Perhaps you should get God back in your life. I always said it wasn't the kids that were the problem in school, only parents like yourself. You mentioned more roadblocks and not one cognitive solution. I am so sorry for you.
Catholic Ed April 26, 2013 at 02:01 AM
Mary M, please go to church and stop spreading your hate.
Catholic Ed April 26, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Recess space? Your kidding me right? this space is perfect. Dreams do come true.
Catholic Ed April 26, 2013 at 02:18 AM
Hey Mary, have some faith will you. Have you ever seen the town make a bad decision when it came to education? I trust the elected officals and they know what they handle. In regards to the churhes maybe we should consider why we even have churches in town? (Sarcasm) church and state? your a joke. It's people like you that squawk more about the what if's than the what is possible. This" town" needs to take a huge step with better thinking and move away from the past thinking. We were talking about a building location and you already are talking about recess and budgets. Unreal. What specifically is your issue? You point out over ten issues. If you have ten issues why stop there? Once again you didn't present one good solution.
Catholic Ed April 26, 2013 at 02:26 AM
I love the direction we are going. Mary please listen up. Coming soon...... 1. New Library. Check. 2. Pre K at former Reading school and gymastics and peraps free on the taxpayers dime. You know the saying. "If it's free it's for me." 3. New housing. Check. 4. New businesses. Irish Bar. Check. 5. More New something. Check. 6. No more Atlantic. Check. This is change we can believe in.
Catholic Ed April 26, 2013 at 02:30 AM
I'm sorry correct me if I am wrong what was the reading Gymastics facility before it was Reading Gymastics and stars? Answer a school with plenty of recess and eating space. Love the town of Reading and love the new regime. Mary, perhaps you should consider Stoneham or even North Reading where the tax rates are climbing faster than a gym instructor........
M April 26, 2013 at 02:51 AM
Forget recess space. Will there even be space for kids to lineup outside to get in, or for parents to line up to pick up? Start with 300 kindergarten students @20 kids/class, that's 15 classes =15 teachers = 15 parking spots. For 120 pre-K, assume half attend some days and other half attend other days, sharing teachers, etc., not all full day. Won't even count them towards dropoff, just for teacher parking. Pre-K typically has 1 teacher/10 kids, thus 12 parking spots. +10 parking spots for the staff needed for this size of school (special ed teachers, nurse, secretary, custodian, principal, food service). Plus required handicap spots for lot of this size (1 van + 1 reg). This totals 39/45 spots leaving the space of 6 parking spots (at most) free for lining up, for parents to stand to pick up kids, etc. Do you think approx 300 kids +300 caregivers can fit into 6 std parking spots? Can't line up out on sidewalk - would block driveways +that is where the school buses (to take kids to after school care) will be. I'm not trying to be a complete "Negative Nellie" about this, just cannot fathom how School Committee +Supt are planning to resolve these issues. It is almost as if they've never actually been present @ a Reading elementary school @ dropoff or pickup....
ReadingParent April 26, 2013 at 02:58 AM
200 communities in the Commonwealth currently offer free full-day Kindergarten. Reading absolutely should, as they are already behind that curve. I consider this 1.4M investment money better spent than a 13M library expansion. It will certainly have a more positive impact on our children and property values. Didn't you move to Reading because of the good schools? For those of you that think Kindergarteners should be with grades 1-5, I disagree. Let the children retain their innocence while they can develop in an environment that will foster their academic growth. I think it is very cutting edge of the Reading School Administration & School Committee to recognize the need for Pre-K & K expansion & wouldn't be surprised if other districts follow suit. Furthermore, by moving RISE to another location, the High School gains 5 classrooms & Wood End gains back a room. Barrows & Eaton will each re-gain multiple classrooms & will hopefully be able to separate the Art & Music rooms in the future.
M April 26, 2013 at 03:17 AM
ReadingParent - I do agree that this money is better spent than on the library, but, frankly, I'd rather move art & music to portable classes onsite at the schools & keep the K there. I wish we could consider K the extension of childhood it was when we were kids, but I have a kid in K now and the Common Core expectations now are even more rigorous than when my other child was in K several years ago. My child is expected to read, write simple sentences, do addition/subtraction within 10, and (I'm quoting from actual K stds here "Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to :(a) compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book and (b) compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic" Does this sound like pretend, play and innocence to you? This sounds like 1st grade to me...but these are TODAY's K stds, courtesy of common core. No more play-doh, fingerpainting, or playing with dolls/trucks. This is why so many feel the need for full day K (and why 70% of Mass towns already offer it for free). I don't agree with the way K is, but it is what it is.
K April 26, 2013 at 02:07 PM
I completely agree with M's comment above. I have a current kindergartener as well as 2 younger who will be affected by this proposal. I'd much rather see the art and music rooms be in an on site trailer at each school than ship the kindergarteners across town. They gain so much from the interaction with the older kids (ie book buddies) and learn the norms of the school community. They have a chance for interaction with older kids on the playground, at lunch, assemblies, and I think it is beneficial to all involved. A separate school for pre-k and kindergarten is, in my mind, an unnecessary transition for very young kids. Unless they group them by their home school in class, they will have to make all new friends again in first grade. I would rather continue to pay for full day kindergarten at my school than see this proposal come to fruition.
Tom Jeffords April 26, 2013 at 03:37 PM
K - As you have three children under five years old, the possibility always exists that an employment change within your family could force you to move out of town. Your children would be forced to develop new friendships. Then what?
M April 26, 2013 at 03:56 PM
We all know that people move over the years and friendships will change. I don't really think that is the main advantage to keeping K with the older kids. I view this proposal by the town, while theoretically "efficient on paper", as big step backwards logistically, educationally, and, possibly economically. Yes Reading Gymnastics was used as a school 35 years ago, before ADA requirements, before Special Ed, and before the world of 20 and under class sizes (my 1970's elementary class sizes were around 30-35 kids every year). Not being from Reading originally, just wondering how many kids were in that building at its peak use. If you've been in the building, it really does seem to need a vast amount of work to turn it back into a school. It would be simpler to turn the library back into a school and move the library instead to RGA/St. Agnes.
K April 26, 2013 at 04:10 PM
Tom, you are, of course, correct that anyone could move in or out of Reading at any time. I am from Reading and I do, however, plan to live here long term. Seeing as I do have small children, I am greatly affected by this and was just pointing out the fact that lots of transitions can be difficult on small children and I find this one to be unnecessary. It is just one of the many reasons why I do not find this to be the best option. I agree with M that it is not the driving reason I oppose this, but I was just adding to the discussion. Since Previous posters have stated a number of reasons why its not an ideal situation that I agree with, like the parking, lack of outdoor space, renovations necessary to build a cafe, library and gym, I was just adding that isolating the kindergarteners could come with some drawbacks.
Nadine Wandzilak April 26, 2013 at 04:58 PM
Clarification: School Supt. John Doherty told Town Meeting last night (Thursday) that only kindergarteners from Eaton and Barrows Elementary Schools would attend the Woburn Street school, along with students in the RISE program now located at RMHS and Wood End. The School Committee has been looking at more space for kindergarteners and prekindergarteners since at least this past July. The reason, according to the committee: more programs (not a growing enrollment). Search Reading Patch from July 2, 12 and 25 and Sept. 12, all 2012, for background to this most recent action.
M April 26, 2013 at 06:27 PM
Thanks for the clarification, though the recent public letter from Karen Jankowski (see http://reading.patch.com/blog_posts/reading-public-schools-discusses-preschool-and-kindergarten-options) mentioned that the centralized K and preK would serve "most" of the Reading community (not just Eaton and Barrows). I stand by my recent parking comments - Eaton now has over 80 kindergarteners, and I believe Barrows over 60. Add in 120 pre-K and that still is a whole lotta kids/cars/parents on that site.
Tom Jeffords April 26, 2013 at 07:19 PM
M must live near the St Agnes School.
M April 26, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Nope I live near Curtis st (off south st) . My kids go to Eaton, I just think the site is unworkable for that many kids and is going to cost quite a lot to become a locale that will be as good as an elementary experience that the non-eaton and non-barrows k students are going to have
M April 26, 2013 at 08:44 PM
I hope I'm wrong about the traffic issues, for sake of kids and town. Would like to know the plan and costs for rest of town k and what added $ needed
Catholic Ed April 28, 2013 at 02:34 AM
Tom great point. M stricts again. Negative Nellie is now talking about ADA and Handicap ramps as if they can't be built. "Rick Pitino was right when he said that the negativity in this town stinks"
M April 28, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Catholic Ed - you mistake me! 1st, as I note below, I live nowhere near St. Agnes, actually closer to Reading Woods. 2nd - of course I know handicap ramps, elevators, parking spots can be built; and MUST be built. Also all doorways must be wide enough for wheelchairs, including bathroom entrances. (That is one of the many new costs to make Killam school ada compliant - one would think it is fine b/c all one floor, bit it's the door widths...). My points were that ada, along with staff req'ts, limits/helps to fill up parking, and the parking lot seems to be the main exterior space to this location, unless the building is completely razed. You would agree a school, even one with "only" 140 K students and 120 pre-K, needs some exterior space for students to play, for they and their caregivers to gather at dropoff & dismissal times? For all I know such space is now a legal req't for schools. The firm Reading hires to design will have to figure this all out, fine. But, the firm cannot change the realities of how Reading parents must bring kids to school & pick them up these days - via car, especially kids 6 and under, on busy st like Woburn & West (for Barrows). Some can walk, surely, but JE/Barrows are very big districts, most will drive. The can do all they want on that site, but they can't change neighborhood, unless they take an adjacent house by eminent domain.
Rich April 29, 2013 at 08:30 PM
Just a thought but would it not be easier to return the Highland School to what it was originally built and intended for over 100 years ago and have the Library move to a brick and steel building on Woburn Street capable of handling the the library collection and providing more community meeting space. Traffic, outdoor space, parking and accessabilty would seem to be better this way also. Or we can continue to try and fit a square peg into a round hole like we have for the last 35 or so years..
M April 30, 2013 at 04:10 AM
Rich, great ideas, although it appears that ship has sailed as of the election a few weeks ago. Too bad the town did not, as Bill Brown repeatedly has noted on Patch, put forth more information/projected expenses/constrution needs, etc., so that the town could vote in light of the many competing needs --perhaps such a discussion could have taken place. Perhaps it did already. Don't forget there also is the Post Office space soon to become vacant. While that is not, IMHO, optimum for a school, access wise, it would have been a superb library location, right downtown, like most other neighboring towns. Suppose it could be a temp. location for the library.
Rich April 30, 2013 at 03:35 PM
Just wait for the first car/person to get clobbered from the snow falling off the slate roof on the Woburn Street building. Not sure how they will handle drop off/pick up. It can be a nightmare just for gymnastics, nasty blind spot, no parking, no open area for kids to play outside, unless they plan on hoofing it to Parker. Perhaps they will bring the lunch over like they did when it was the Woburn Street school back in the day. Too bad the Town didn't still own any of the other 4 or 5 former school properties (Pearl Street comes to mind) that were sold off in a rush back in the late 70's and 80's. The Post Office would be a great site as well for the Library but I see that going the mixed use route, just as the rest of Haven Street area will eventually go, 3-4 stories, upper level living areas, lower level retail.
Linda Snow Dockser May 27, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Discussion is always welcome in Reading, and administration go out of their way to make themselves and their staff available for questions and discussion. It would be great if people bring their questions and concerns to the scheduled informational meetings. According to Edline and repeated newspaper publicity, "There will be an informational session of the proposed Woburn Street School on Wednesday, May 29, at 7:00 p.m. in the Barrows Cafeteria. This will be the first of several opportunities to hear about the plans for the school and future plans for full day kindergarten in the district. As part of the session, there will be an opportunity for questions to be asked. If you have any questions, please contact the Reading Public Schools Administrative Office at 781-944-5800.
Linda Snow Dockser May 27, 2013 at 11:28 AM
Welcome to town! The Reading Public Schools welcome and intentionally build in opportunities for citizen input. As Edline and newspaper publicity has posted: There will be an informational session of the proposed Woburn Street School on Wednesday, May 29, at 7:00 p.m. in the Barrows Cafeteria. This will be the first of several opportunities to hear about the plans for the school and future plans for full day kindergarten in the district. As part of the session, there will be an opportunity for questions to be asked. If you have any questions, please contact the Reading Public Schools Administrative Office at 781-944-5800.


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