Enrollment boom has elementary schools ‘running at capacity’

Feb 14, 2020 by

Posted on: Friday, February 14, 2020

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — The enrollment spike at both elementary schools has reached a tipping point and a permanent solution needs to be identified in order to rectify the problem, the School Enrollment Capacity and Exploration Committee concluded during a Feb. 12 meeting.

SECEC Chairman John Scenna recalled that the space committee was formed two years ago in the wake of increasing enrollment at the elementary schools. In order to gain a better understanding about the problem, the town hired the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) to conduct a demographic study.

As part of the study, NESDEC consultant John Kennedy said the organization reviewed building permits, reviewed home and condominium sales, and interviewed local officials and realtors. He also said NESDEC examined birth rates and analyzed the number of children currently living in multi-family housing developments.

Kennedy said NESDEC is projecting that elementary school enrollment will be increasing from 870 students in the 2019-2020 school year to 1,023 students in the 2029-2030 school year.

“We are projecting to see a major increase,” said Kennedy.

While Scenna noted NESDEC’s projections could change, he said the organization’s data has been accurate for two straight years.

“Last year’s projections held this year,” said Scenna. “In fact, they were a little advanced. Based on all of the information the School Department has right now, these projections are holding.”

Scenna said NESDEC’s report does not include three potential developments on the horizon. He said a Land Court judge will be deciding the fate of the Bali Hai apartment building and developer Angus Bruce is planning on building a subdivision on upper Main Street near the Middleton line. He also said an over-55 townhouse development could be built along the Sagamore Spring Golf Course or single-family homes could be built on the property. That project is currently in limbo.

“The assumptions could be significantly higher than what is already in the report,” said Scenna. “If Sagamore is developed into single-family houses, there will be a larger impact on school demographics.”

Superintendent Jane Tremblay gave an overview of projected elementary school enrollment for the 2020-2024 school years.

Tremblay said both elementary schools will be offering five sections of kindergarten next year. She is currently projecting that 103 students will be enrolled in Huckleberry Hill School while 94 kindergarteners are projected to be enrolled at Summer Street School. She said around 70 kindergarten students were enrolled at each school in previous years.

“In my 33 years in the district, this will be the first year we will be running five kindergarten classrooms at both schools,” said Tremblay. “We have always had four sections at both buildings. I thought this was a blip on the radar screen and was a bubble coming through, but the projections for next year are higher than they were this year.”

Tremblay said there are 22 classrooms at Huckleberry Hill School and there are 21 classrooms at Summer Street. She noted Summer Street has two additional classrooms dedicated for preschool students, and both schools have separate rooms for art and music.

“We are using every viable space that we have for K-4 instruction,” said Tremblay. “We are running at capacity at both schools.”

Tremblay said both elementary schools will be able to handle the enrollment spike next year. She noted an existing classroom at Summer Street that is used for a special education program will be converted into a traditional classroom. She said Summer Street will find a new location for the program.

“As we do every year, we will repurpose other spaces so that everybody has a viable teaching space,” said Tremblay.

Based on the enrollment projections, Tremblay is projecting that 43 elementary classrooms will be needed for the 2020-2021 school year. She is projecting 46 classrooms will be needed for the 2021-2022 school year, 47 will be needed for the 2022-2023 school year and 48 will be needed for the 2023-2024 school year.

“We have absolutely no idea where those kids are going to fall,” said Tremblay. “We don’t know if those students are going to fall on the Summer Street side of town or the Huckleberry Hill side of town.”

In response to a question from Selectman Dick Dalton, Tremblay said the secondary schools will both be able to accommodate the enrollment increase. She noted the Lynnfield High School addition was built several years ago in order to accommodate increasing enrollment. She also said two pod areas in Lynnfield Middle School have been converted into classrooms and two additional pod areas can be converted if the need arises.

“The middle school and the high school are not areas of concern for us at this moment,” said Tremblay. “The number one area of concern is both elementary schools.”

In order to study the two elementary schools’ capacity, Scenna said the town decided to conduct a feasibility study that was funded by last year’s April Town Meeting. He said the job was awarded to Tappé Architects.

Tappé Architects principal owner Charlie Hay said the feasibility study has not been completed. He said the firm has walked through each building and site in order to gain a better understanding of each layout.

“The takeaway is the 43 classrooms are capacity generating rooms,” said Hay. “You don’t have any other capacity generating rooms other than the art and music rooms. If want to have 20 students in each classroom as a reasonable goal, you really want to have 50 classrooms.”

Hay said both elementary schools were not designed to accommodate a second floor.

“You don’t need to double the size of these buildings,” said Hay. “You just need to add classrooms.”

Hay said building permanent additions to the elementary schools are a better solution than constructing modular classrooms.

“In our experience, modular construction is not a big cost savings over traditional construction,” said Hay. “The only advantage it offers is the speed of construction. However, they are not 50-year buildings. You currently have schools with steel frames, masonry walls, good interior finishes and are easy to maintain. That is not what you get with a modular. That is an approach you can take if you are desperate for a solution, but they will be 20-year buildings and not 50-year buildings.”

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Dalton inquired what is the timeframe for addressing the problem.

Scenna said the elementary schools will be able to accommodate the growing enrollment next year, but said a solution needs to be in place by the 2021-2022 school year.

Tremblay said both elementary principals are working to find locations for special education programs and tutoring programs for next year.

“We have to be creative,” said Tremblay. “This year at Huckleberry Hill, we had to convert the conference room into a special education room, which meant the principal had to leave her office and convert that room into a conference room. The principal took over the psychologist’s office, and the psychologist moved into an office at the end of the building. We are always making compromises and are always thinking about what is in the kids’ best interest. I think we are out of creative ideas at this point.”

Scenna agreed.

“They are juggling,” said Scenna. “The bathtub is overflowing and there is no relief in sight.”

SECEC member Arthur Swanson asked what the next steps are in the process.

Town Administrator Rob Dolan said a School Building Committee will need to be formed in order to evaluate the different options. He said Town Meeting will also need to vote on a solution and a debt exclusion vote similar to one that was needed for the LHS addition is a possibility.

“In Lynnfield, we have Town Meeting and there is a process,” said Dolan. “It is not an immediate process and that process begins tonight. If there is a decision to build, we are going to have to pay for a design. If we are talking about several million dollars, we will not be able to pay for it in the operating budget. We need to have a conversation before we take on a major construction project.”

SECEC/School Committee member Tim Doyle made a motion stating the elementary schools have a capacity problem due to the enrollment spike. He also recommended that the space committee discuss its findings during a joint Board of Selectmen and School Committee meeting. He also recommended that a School Building Committee be formed in order to identify a permanent solution.

After the discussion, the space committee unanimously approved Doyle’s motion.

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