Town Meeting tackled under Article 13 Monday night school capital improvement projects, including a feasibility study to rebuild and funds for repairs at the and elementary schools.
Under Article 13, part B, Town Meeting Members and residents discussed two items, a proposed $1,050,000 feasibility study for replacement of the Estabrook School, and a second item, to appropriate $100,000 to design an expanded Robinson Road to access the school property.
Following the discovery and subsequent remediation of PCBs at the school last summer and fall, school officials submitted an emergency statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority to replace Estabrook.
The school can stay in use until 2014, when a new building could come online, under a plan submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency that would control polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) exposure until the new building can be used.
Discussion Monday night centered around Robinson Road, which School Committee Member Alessandro Alessandrini said could be widened to provide a second entrance to Estabrook.
Facilities Director Pat Goddard noted that a 40-foot easement may be pursued, to create a 24-foot road with two four-foot sidewalks and two medians. Doing so would interfere with some abutting properties, he said, but would segregate student and staff access to the school from that of construction vehicles.
“We want to get into the design process to see what the road would look like,” Goddard said. “We realize the current conditions on Robinson Road are very different than other roads here in town, and we will be very sensitive to that.”
Town Meeting Member Andy Friedlich asked what the expected costs of takings on Robinson Road would be, and Goddard noted that would studied during the design process.
Several residents of Robinson Road voiced opposition to the potential road expansion, saying they fear their quiet road would turn into a parking lot of school traffic.
Ritika Bowry, a Robinson Road resident, said she supports building a new school, but wonders what other options there are for Robinson Road's use.
“We are reasonable people and we want to find a reasonable solution,” she said. “The reality is it looks like an ideal school driveway to officials. We don’t want to be a driveway… we need to study other options."
Another Robinson Road resident asked if the road portion of the article could be decoupled from whether Town Meeting approved funding for the Estabrook feasibility study, but was told by David Kanter of the Capital Expenditures Committee that both needed to go forward together in order to not destroy the timeline of having a new Estabrook School ready in 2014.
Ultimately, Town Meeting approved appropriation of $1,050,000 for the Estabrook feasibility study and $100,000 for design of Robinson Road.
Town Meeting next took up Article 13A, to appropriate $280,000 to complete a plan to renovate the Bridge and Bowman schools under an expanded scope. Doing expanded renovations would provide 20 to 25 years use of the buildings, at a cost of about $19.4 million.
Selectman Peter Kelley sparked discussion by suggesting that Town Meeting Members vote down the item and look instead at rebuilding the schools instead of renovating. For $300,000, officials could create a design plan to rebuild the schools, he said.
“I believe we must get back on track to replace our older elementary schools as we’ve already done with and ,” he said. “I believe first hand in the benefits and value of building new.”
Al Levine of the Appropriation Committee said the town has a long list of capital projects to do, and noted that $20 million for renovations is a good plan that gets 20 years more of building life, instead of spending about $60 million to replace the schools.
“The town doesn’t have a place to put new school buildings that aren’t in the plan,” he said. “We just don’t have money burning holes in our pockets.”
Mary Anton-Oldenburg, principal of Bowman, and Meg Collela, principal of Bridge, said they supported the renovations, which would bring the schools up to the level they need to be at for space and safety.
“I’m enthusiastically in favor of this project,” Anton-Oldenburg said. “While new schools are beautiful, renovation is an effective way of improving our systems.”
Town Meeting Member Beveryly Kelley, of precinct 4, said renovating could be a cheaper, faster solution, but building new should be considered.
“We must consider the big picture and building new schools,” she said. “We should build new, not just for all of us now, but for all those who follow.”
After more discussion, Town Meeting voted to approve item 13A for design of renovations at Bridge and Bowman.