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FRAMINGHAM – The 8-member Framingham School Committee unanimously voted last night, January 20, to move forward with a petition to the state for support for a new elementary school on the southside of the City of Framingham.

This is the first step in a long process to building a new elementary school.

For example, the Fuller Middle School process started in early 2010.

In 2013, 2014, and 2015, the Framingham Public Schools submitted its application for a new Fuller Middle School project to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The application was rejected twice and approved in 2015.

Voters approved a debt exclusion override on December 11, 2018 to fund the new middle school on Flagg Drive.

The approximate cost of the middle school project is around $98.3 million. The project is receiving a grant from the state for approximately $39.5 million. Taxpayers will pay $58.8 over a 20-year period.

Construction began in June 2019, with the school set to open to students & staff for the 2021-2022 school year.

And now a process has started for a new elementary school.

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In multiple votes during the fall/winter of 2020 the School Committee voted to make the pursuit of this new school south of Route 9 a top priority. This included scheduling this January vote to enter into the MSBA process, as well as seeking funding through future capital budget allocations to prepare for the MSBA’s eventual invitation into their Capital Pipeline.

Wednesday’s night’s vote gave the Committee’s approval for the Superintendent of Schools to submit a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

“Our experience indicates that it will likely take multiple submissions over the span of several years before the District receives an invitation into the MSBA Capital Pipeline, yet we are eager to move ahead with an initial submission once the portal is opened by the MSBA this spring so that no opportunities are missed,” said Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay.

Framingham currently has nine elementary schools, with just three located below Route 9 – McCarthy Elementary, the 2-way Barbieri Elementary, and Wilson Elementary School.

But 2/3rd of the students live South of Route 9.

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“The result is school communities that pull from all over the city, rather than serving those students nearby. Building a school on the southside of the city would not only better serve and represent the students of this part of the city, but provide a community resource to a highly-populated part of the city through athletic fields, playgrounds, and public space,” said Tremblay.

District 8 School Committee member Jessica Barnhill, who has a preschooler, agreed.

“The inequities in our infrastructure are glaring. It’s not fair that the children of District 8 spend hours on buses.  5-6-year-olds on a bus for hours, especially in the winter months when it’s dark and it’s cold. They’re young and they’re far from home,” said Barnhill Wednesday night. “When I drive to work, I pass tons of bus stops in my district. Last year 570+ kids, grades k-5 in district 8, were sent all over the city to attend far away elementary schools.”

“How did we get here?,” said Barnhill last night. “Both my mother’s family and my father’s family settled on the south side. My mom, her four siblings, and her single-working mother grew up in the muster field. My dad grew up on Dow Street. That’s where his parents settled and raised their five children– Just like many other hardworking, blue-collar, and single and low-income families. My family attended Memorial, Lincoln, Farley, and Roosevelt. Those schools gave them access to education and opportunities that were not available to their parents. Those four schools – Memorial, Lincoln, Farley, and Roosevelt, were all southside schools… They were all closed.  And they have been closed for quite some time. Demographic studies and the equity audit speak to support this action on our part. We are seeing families, again, settling in these neighborhoods.”

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime for the south side.  This school would promote strong bonds in the community, connection, proximity, and alleviate certain inequities.  In addition, this is going to be a tremendous boost for the city. Families, residents, students, neighborhoods, and our community as a whole will benefit. The children of the south side deserve the same educational opportunities as their north-side peers.  It’s time,” said Barnhill.

“Now is the time to apply to the MSBA’s 2021 SOI application process. Therefore, I am requesting a vote of the School Committee, and a corresponding vote by the City Council, as required by the MSBA process. A template of the MSBA’s motion is attached. Applying to the MSBA comes at no cost to the city. As you may remember from the Fuller Middle School process, it took three attempts before the MSBA accepted the application. The year Fuller was
ultimately accepted, it became one of only ten statewide school projects approved by the MSBA, out of 120 applications,” said Tremblay before Wednesday night’s vote.

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The pre-feasibility study identified six core factors for considering how to address the need to repair or replace Hemenway Elementary School.

  1. The existing facility, built in 1961, has had minimal investment since it was built. The building systems are nearing the end of their lifespan, requiring significant investment to maintain the existing functions. Additionally, the existing building does not meet current building codes. Any significant investment would require extensive renovation and additional investment to the existing building, which would maintain current functionality and not support further growth.
  2. The existing facility is insufficient for the enrollment and curriculum of the Framingham Public Schools. The current Hemenway building is over 20,000 square feet smaller than the MSBA projected needs for the current student enrollment. In addition to being undersized for the current enrollment, the existing building’s scale and orientation of spaces are outdated and unable to properly adapt to the needs of contemporary educational service delivery.
  3. The Water Street site requires redevelopment in order to meet the needs of a K-5 elementary school. The existing Hemenway building is located on a small lot with significant environmental restrictions, such as a wetland buffer and riparian zone. Additionally, the existing structure is not capable of supporting vertical expansion. A new, space-efficient, multi-story building would be required to meet the needs of a K-5 elementary school under current building codes and zoning.
  4. District goals include preschool expansion which cannot be accomplished on the current site in addition to serving K-5 populations. An expanded preschool program would require additional student capacity, additional staff and parking, and developmentally appropriate recreational facilities, all in addition to an necessarily expanded elementary program. The Water Street site does not provide the space necessary for the inclusion of a robust and developmentally appropriate preschool program while still serving the K-5 students that it struggles to meet currently.
  5. Additional land is needed to best serve the growing needs of the District. A maximum of 675 students could be served at the Water Street site in a new building, currently serving 550-580 students. It is unlikely that an additional 100 student capacity growth is likely to meet the long-term growth needs of the City of Framingham.
  6. The property located at the Bethany Road site offers opportunities to address enrollment, space needs, playing fields, playgrounds, parking, and curriculum goals, including the expansion of preschool programs.

A new school site south of Route 9 would serve the neighborhood well by improving school accessibility and thereby reducing transportation costs by reducing the number of students who require busing across the district in our current school choice model, said Tremblay.

Editor’s Note: In full transparency, the Bethany property is an abutter to the SOURCE publisher’s & editor’s home. If an new school is built on the Bethany property it would likely have an impact on my property.

By editor

Susan Petroni is the former editor for SOURCE. She is the founder of the former news site, which as of May 1, 2023, is now a self-publishing community bulletin board. The website no longer has a journalist but a webmaster.