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Consultant Offers Space Options for Reading Elementary Schools

A new elementary school is an option for the town.

Space is at a premium in Reading’s five elementary schools.

District-wide, those schools are at 96.5 percent capacity, a consultant on school space planning has told the School Committee. Capacity depends on the use of the space, he said.

Enrollment isn’t the only issue.

What’s also taking space in those schools, consultant Frank Locker of Locker Educational Planning said, are programs -- from special education to all-day kindergarten to a coming, more hands-on way of teaching math and science. Full-day kindergarten is growing here and throughout the Commonwealth, he said, and changes are coming in special education.

So what’s the town to do?

Locker presented the School Committee last month with a series of options, both short and long-term.

They range, at the extremes, from the superintendent assigning some students to an other-than-neighborhood school to avoid a too-large class to building a new elementary school.

Locker also included the town’s pre-school RISE program in his lists of considerations and options.

Using enrollment numbers based on births to town residents and elementary school enrollments five years later, Locker described enrollment for the next 15 years as “nearly flat.” But individual schools have “blips” of students in different grades, he said, over the desired class size.

Based on new housing in town and the “rollover” of homes with no school-age children to families with elementary schoolers, enrollment could increase at a “high” rate, he said, by two percent a year, or a total of 200 students in 2021.

Locker said he didn’t know which figures would prevail.

The town’s first consideration, Locker said, is to house elementary school students. If high enrollment projections come to pass, he said, they would “trump” program needs.

The superintendent is already assigning some students new to Reading not to the school in their neighborhood but to one with more space, Superintendent John Doherty told the audience.

Short-term – that’s five years -- students of different ages could be placed in the same classroom or class size could be increased for a certain length of time. Art and music rooms could be reassigned as classrooms and RISE could leave a classroom at .

Building-wise, the school system might add modular classrooms at the elementary schools; or for the RISE program at the ; or convert the “break out pits” into classroom use.

Long-term, three of five elementary schools – , and -- could be enlarged.  

Or the RISE program could move to its own building, either with or without centralized kindergarten. That could free kindergarten classrooms at the elementary schools.

Or a new elementary school could be built to house pre-schoolers through fifth graders. That option is the most costly, Locker said, but also the most comprehensive.

The Wood End School opened seven years ago. Part of the argument for the new school was to allow dedicated art and music space in all the town’s elementary schools, Locker noted.

Programs like all-day kindergarten and special education have changed since then, Doherty said.

“This is a study of nuance,” Locker emphasized, based on many small scale and interrelated issues.

Adding to the challenge: all the town’s elementary schools are on small sites, he said.

The pre-school RISE program is housed primarily at the high school, and in one classroom at Wood End. The program is most effective in one location, Locker said. The program is not just for students with special needs, emphasized Director of School Finance and Operation Mary DeLai.

Each school space option has both pro’s and con’s, Locker told the School Committee and audience which included selectmen and Finance Committee members. His 50-plus page report lists pluses and minuses for each option.

Limiting the number of all-day kindergarteners, for example, would have financial implications, said Doherty.

Locker asked about space at both St. Agnes and Austin Prep. Neither would have details about available space soon, he said. Commercial space would be expensive, he said, to renovate.

The School Committee will discuss the report at its retreat in late July.

Fred Van Magness Sr. July 02, 2012 at 11:22 AM
Maybe with town/schools should be looking to acquire the Post Office building and site on Haven St. (which the Fed's want to sell) as a new school for town wide centralized kindergarten or in combination with Rise.
M July 02, 2012 at 12:36 PM
It seems a misnomer to call all-day kindergarten a "program" (although those using it have to pay for it ($4200), which is more than twice what some other nearby towns (e.g., Winchester, Lexington) happen to charge for full-day). LImiting it also seems contrary to what Reading is doing now -- it has increased for 2012/13: In Joshua Eaton the same pool of about 80-85 K students will now be 3 full day and one half day class(with the half day teacher splitting time between JE and Birch Meadow), whereas past few years it was 2 full, 2 half, for same # students. This has increased space crunch there. But...nearly 75% of the cities and towns in MA already have FREE full-day kindergarten, including our neighboring towns Wilmington, Woburn, &this year Melrose, and they manage to pay for that AND pay for school buses with a lower tax rate than Reading. Full-day K probably will be a state requirement soon. On that note, centralized kindergarten would be a madhouse unless the hours were staggered from those of elementary schools, b/c so many parents have to also bring siblings to elementary school somewhere else. sometimes twice - what other towns that still don't have it for all, like Winchester charge, OR...we could just restrain building so much new housing in town....
Joe Veno July 02, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Fred, That building is up for sale?
Rob July 02, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I guess the town didn't see this coming with all of the new housing projects going up.
M July 02, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Rob, our town seems to be willfully blind about the new housing and seems to believe everything every developer says. Allegedly developer said, at time of proposal, the new housing was not supposed to add a lot of kids to the school system, was going to be half age-restricted, etc. Reading Woods was "projected" to add only about 18 kids to Joshua Eaton district, primarily from the 16 or so 3 br townhomes and not from the numerous unrestricted 2 BR condos and of course the age-restricted ones. NOW, if you go to the Reading Woods web site (link below) it says NOTHING WHATSOEVER about age restricted units (they haven't built any yet), but does have a specific bullet point touting "Reading Schools" http://www.pulte.com/communities/ma/reading/reading-woods/91936/index1.aspx#
Fred Van Magness Sr. July 02, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Hi Joe, Yes, according to the Reading Chronicle last week, the Post Office is looking for offers to potentially sell the Haven St. office, relocate all the mail handling to vacant space at the central facility just over the line on West St., and keep just a satellite window open in Reading for stamps, mailing letters & packages, etc. But the building could be sold if the price is right. I. like you was surprised to hear of it, but the PO needs to drastically reduce costs. Seems to me the town could maybe use the space....we do not need more housing and certainly don't need another bank in the downtown. Hope all is well on your end....
Dave Miskinis July 02, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Imagine the traffic on Haven street during drop-offs and pick-ups! The more the merrier!!
c July 02, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Interesting info
c July 02, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Just a few pieces of factual information. The Wood End School now (beginning Sept 2012) has 2 classrooms being used to house the Rise Preschool Program. One classroom is being used for 1/2 day K in the mornings and a RiSE preschool classroom in the afternoons. One classroom is being used for just Rise Preschool. Also,the 1/2 day K classroom(that will take place in Sept 2012) was previously the Full Day K classroom and that Full Day classroom was moved to Joshua Eaton. Lastly, please remember that like the Full Day Kindergarten program brings in money to the system; the Rise program does also. Just some things to note.
Fred Van Magness Sr. July 02, 2012 at 04:34 PM
The RISE program is absolutely terrific. I've had all 6 of my grandkids enrolled over the years and one more is there for another year. That said, as the demand for their services increases, the need for a more permanent home is all the more apparent. Pre-school resources and now more demand for full day kindergarten is stretching space issues, unless of course, the town decides to erect portables at each elementary school. Full day kindergarten has almost doubled the space needs at each elementary school. And if it is adopted district wide, the space issues will just get worse. Maybe the schools/town should seriously re-consider NOT selling the land off Oakland Rd.....before school space needs are fully understood and long term solutions developed. Once sold, it will probably be more housing and more strain on the schools. The school committee needs to talk to the BOS about this now....not later.
M July 02, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Fred is right - the town needs to consider all available space. IMHO they could expand out @ Joshua Eaton in the back - they have a huge field & good sized playground, don't really need to keep the large paved area behind, could put it alongside the playground or on part of one of the two huge fields. Also, they seem to keep moving RISE around--that seems to be the most likely candidate for a good-sized, centrally located spot. There is one RISE @high school, and during 2010/2011 there also was one @ Joshua Eaton - that class seems to have been moved to Wood End and the room they used was made into an additional (4th) 1st grade class during 2011-12; the added 1st grade class is still required for 2012-13 and now that xtra large 1st grade class requires an extra 2nd grade class, so a 3rd grade teacher is switching over. The full day K from wood end is also enrolling Joshua Eaton students (I know of several) and is taking over the former half-day K room, which is, to my knowledge, being moved to a rather small music room. Not sure where the music room will go.
Joe Veno July 02, 2012 at 10:00 PM
M, You are so right. The same thing happens every where.. The developers will tell the town anything to get the project passed. Even if it is age restricted what they fail to mention is seniors who down size from the 3 & 4 bedroom home into the development sell their house to a young family. They add no childern to the new development but the young family who buys the house adds childern to the school sustem. So when they say the development will only add ex: 25 kids that is a bunch of you know what.
Janice J. July 02, 2012 at 10:44 PM
What a noble cause to turn the Post office into a Mental Health Center and a Methadone Clinic. Look at its' proximity to the depot, and it being equidistant from Lawrence and Boston! We could help a lot at addicts in Middlesex County, and it could house RCASA.
Tom Jeffords July 03, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Buy the property and re-open the St. Agnes / Woburn Street School.

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