GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 17, 2013

ME leaders eye school building options

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — MANCHESTER — Leaders of the Manchester Essex Regional School District weighing their options for addressing the needs of her two elementary schools – including potentially building a single, central elementary school that could serve children and parents in both towns.

The assessment of the district’s elementary school choices follows a facilities report by the Norwell-based architecture firm, Habeeb and Associates Architects. The needs assessment is based on projected future enrollments in the two elementary schools through 2025.

In all, the report explores three options that were determined by the district. They are:

Renovate and add onto both Manchester Memorial School and Essex Elementary School if needed, at a projected overall cost of about $35,186,806.

Provide additions and renovations to both schools, pegged at $35,210,366, but split them up — so that one of the town elementary schools would serve all of the district’s pre-kindergarten students through Grade 2, with the other school housing students in Grades 3-5.

Constructing a single new school that would serve all of the elementary students, with the building to be near the towns line and of equal distance to each town’s core. That route would cost about $41,040,000, according to the report.

The report notes a benefit of rehabilitating the current buildings and keeping the grade structure intact is that it would be less costly as well as provide the least amount of changes to places where students are already accustomed.

Although building additions and renovating the buildings would cause some noise during the school year, this option would also impact open space at both elementary schools, the consultant’s report states.

The second option would also seek to build an early childhood education center at Essex Elementary School, while Manchester Memorial Elementary School would house Grades 3, 4 and 5. Both of these options would need two approvals from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and only one project could be completed at a time due to grant issues.

The report also states the new grade organization may “meet resistance” from Essex and Manchester.

While building a new school would be the most costly option, the review states it would bring the student population closer together, lessen the impact on students and it could be completed quicker than the other two; it would only need one approval from the MSBA.

The towns would, however, have to find a suitable site on which to build. To that end, the report included the list of sites the district previously looked at to build the current Manchester Essex Regional Middle/High School.

But the district may also have to change the regional agreement, which states each town shall have one elementary school, with decisions needing annual town meeting approvals from both communities.

From water pooling atop Essex Elementary School to basement rooms in Manchester Memorial School, the report listed various major issues that are in need of repair. Manchester Memorial Elementary School racked up 19 issues from the floors and ceiling to the thinning paint, Essex Elementary was cited for nine issues.

For now, School Committee Members Caroline Weld and James Haskell, who serve on the facilities subcommittee, are looking to work with other school officials to ask and handle public input.

“We want to start getting the word out,” School Committee chair Linda Crosby said Tuesday.

School Committee members discussed some ideas, such as issuing a survey to residents or holding public hearings at Monday night meeting.

“(The process) is a slow waltz,” School Committee Member Ann Cameron said at the meeting.

Crosby said the committee would be looking for input at upcoming meetings.

To read the reviews by the architectural firm, visit the school district website at mersd.org.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.