School Building Research Committee to report to School Committee Wednesday

Southborough Public Schools K-8 Enrollment Projections

Above: Based on new projections (again) of future enrollment growth, the NSBORO administration is against closing a school unless there is a related school building addition/renovation project to go with it. (click to enlarge)

On Wednesday, the School Research Subcommittee will make its recommendations to the School Committee on next steps. According to a report already posted by NSBORO administration they won’t be calling for simply consolidating a building. Yet, recent discussions indicate that they will recommend studying a school addition/renovation project at Neary that could lead to “decommissioning” Woodward.

The report stated:

it is not feasible to consolidate due to the current spacing requirements to maintain class sizes and continue to offer a full complement of programming to its students.

It goes on to explain that consolidating schools would likely require eventually increasing the size of individual classrooms. In addition, they point to the “high probability” of universal preschool becoming a state mandate within the next ten years.

The study was based on an aggressive growth projection model with a much higher enrollment projection than I last shared a year ago. As I explained in February 2021, the Town and district had teamed up on a study to determine if declined/declining enrollments would allow the Town to save costs by closing a building. Projections reported by NESDEC (a consultant) had initially shown a projected increase. But after some figures were questioned, a revised projection forecast a 4% decline.

Since then, the administration brought in a second firm to look at the numbers. RLS came back with an assumption of 7% enrollment growth over 10 years. That was shared with the School Committee this winter.

RLS’ projection study did note that data was based on assumptions about fertility and migration rates. They explained that those may be inaccurate and showed the impact that 10% higher or lower rates could cause. In the Space Needs report, the NSBORO administration wrote:

For the purposes of its feasibility, the District utilized the 16% projected to increase from 2020 to 2030. The projection is based on a 10% increase in the Projected Total Fertility Rate (TFR) and Crude Migration Rate (CMR). The District’s position is that it is the enrollment ceiling and provides flexibility if enrollment increases greater than RLS’s projections.

(Note: That “16%” is a reference to the increase over last year’s enrollments. If you compare to current enrollment, it’s actually 14%, which is why that’s what appears in my graph.)

The administration’s report backed up their findings by laying out different scenarios with the elimination of either Woodward or Neary School by moving one grade to two different schools. In each model they looked at whether all the remaining buildings would still meet occupancy permit, septic capacity, and space needs requirements. None met all criteria.

There was one other model that did meet all of the building capacity limits – that was staying with the current split for four buildings. However, under that scenario, the buildings failed to meet other goals the administration hoped to achieve:

  • Maximizing people, materials, and instructional resources
  • Maximizing collaboration of faculty and staff
  • Minimizing student transitions

You can see the full study here. You can read RLS demographic data here.

The documents were highlighted in the Superintendent’s weekly update last Friday. He wrote: 

School Building Research Update

Since the fall of 2020, the Town and School District have had continuing discussions about school building use in light of the need to make long-term plans for capital expenditures. The Town of Southborough’s Capital Planning Committee – School Research Subcommittee has worked on several aspects of this analysis, including gathering information about student enrollment projections, commissioning an assessment survey of the Neary School, and reviewing school building use and grade configurations. The Subcommittee has also gathered preliminary information regarding cost and funding relating to the renovation or replacement of the Neary School. In connection with this, the District has submitted a Statement of Interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s Core Building Program for work on the Neary School building.

When is the next important meeting to discuss the next steps?

The Town of Southborough’s Capital Planning Committee – School Research Subcommittee will be making a presentation to the School Committee at the next scheduled meeting on February 9, 2022. The presentation will update the School Committee and the public on its work so far, as well as discuss options for moving forward. The meeting will be held via Zoom and will begin at 6:30 p.m. Please join the meeting to hear more about this important topic.

To register for the webinar, click here.

As I’ve written in the past, the School Research Subcommittee is under the Capital Planning Committee with collaboration of the School Committee and administration. The school’s academic goals for conolidating buildings aren’t the only reason that committee has continued to pursue a project despite the shifted enrollment projections.

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen Meeting, Chair Jason Malinowski pointed out to selectmen that the Town has a number of aging buildings that will require capital investments over the coming years. Their committee has been studying the Town’s space needs on a parallel track with the School Research, hoping to find some efficiencies (and avoid inefficiencies). 

As of today’s 12:30 pm meeting of the School Research Subcommittee, they had yet to hear back from the MSBA on whether or not it would help support a Feasibility Study for a Neary School project in this year’s round.

While MSBA would be expected to reimburse the Town for about 40% of a building project (if they support one), the process comes with delays. In the meantime, some of the Town’s buildings, including Neary have some capital maintenance expenses pending. The committee was already planning to present the School Committee with “multiple pathways” of how to proceed and what costs each path could entail.

As those of you who have been following this story already know, one path looked at was adding enough capacity to Neary to justify closing Woodward School. Based on the Town’s municipal Space Needs Study, the building could then be used to house Town offices, the Senior Center, and Southborough Recreation.

On Tuesday night, Malinowsi reiterated that the concept is still at “phase zero” in terms of soliciting community feedback and determining how to proceed.

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Frank Crowell
2 years ago

The other night, I had a dream where one of our educational non-profits came to their senses about the amount of support the taxpayers of Southborough have contributed to their existence. This institution bought Neary as is and turned it into an alternative K-8 with a discounted rate for Southborough families. The town used the money to renovate the Senior Center where some town offices were placed. Long term this resulted in a property taxes going down and further set our town apart from other communities in the basic K-8 education.

Of course this was just a dream. Far too many factions would shut this down cold and we all know the educational non-profits will ever come to their senses on what they owe the taxpayers of this town.

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