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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.

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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