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Questions from Stratton parents reflect relocation stress

Subcommittee tries to offer its best information to date

The number of parents swelled to about 30 at Stratton's cafeteria as they came to learn, suggest ideas and express comments about plans to relocate their students for a year to modular classrooms in other schools.

Stratton sign

As the meeting of the School Committee's feasibility subcommittee stretched 40 minutes longer than scheduled, parent Leigh Panettiere got to one underlying issue: "Keep our kids out of Ottoson .... Nobody thinks this a good idea."

Subcommittee Chair Cindy Starks spoke as a teacher who has conducted classes in modular classrooms in Lexington: "I wish we had more money" to do whatever we wanted in the face of expanding enrollment, but "we have to live within the constraints the town has given us. We're all trying as hard as we can."

These positions generally reflect two of the chief sides in the debate about relocating students in 2016-17 while Stratton undergoes its long-awaited, $12 million renovation.

Based on the discussion Tuesday, May 26, here are the main points to what is known so far:

-- Offers from four companies to design modular classroom have come in, and the Permanent Town Building Committee is to recommend a choice Tuesday, June 2.

-- Once the designer is known, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said, many questions that parents have raised could be addressed, as the designer is expected to help sort them out.

-- In early June, a consultant studying space needs among the schools for the next five years is expected to know preliminary data about expanding enrollment. These numbers will help the administration decide situating displaced students. A final report is due in September.

-- At least 18 modular classrooms are expected to be purchased under a $2 million Capital Planning Committee allocation.

-- The need to situate some at Ottoson is certain, because the middle school is overcrowded.

School Committee logo

All 6 elementary schools may be in play

Where the others units will go, reported earlier as Hardy and Bishop, remains to be seen. Bodie told those at Stratton that the administration is looking at all six elementary schools. With an eye to reporters covering the meeting, she said, "Just maybe."

Subcommittee member Bill Hayner asked whether having Stratton fourth and fifth graders at Ottoson is a "done deal." Bodie nodded that it is.

That is the sticking point for many at Stratton, which has been the host since 1998 for rebuilding or renovating the other six elementary schools.

Called by one parent "unfair to our children" to send them to modulars at Ottoson, the expectation led at least two parents to ask whether the Stratton renovation could be put off.

Bodie said it could not. Diane Johnson, the schools' chief financial officer, said that theoretically the plug could be pulled "and the project would die." Earlier, she said, "No one wants to see this project fail."

The evening began with a brief presentation by Glenn A. Cort, vice president for business development at Triumph Modular. He said the Littleton-based builder of modular classrooms aims to redefine the key word and said it does not mean "temporary." The structures are air-conditioned and are not "trailers." See some here >>

Rule of thumb cost $250,000

Panettiere said costs were parents' "primary concern," but Cort declined to be specific. Johnson said a rule of thumb for such units is $250,000.

In a PowerPoint with the heading, "Why modulars?," Bodie showed enrollment increasing from 2,520 in 2011, the year the Thompson closed to be rebuilt, to 2,765 in 2013, when it opened. The number for fiscal 2015 is 2,842. Projected for fiscal 2017 are 2,986.

To a parent who asked why the administration did not foresee the enrollment rise, Bodie said the increase have been relatively recent. In 1998 and 2000, when public votes supported revamping seven schools, enrollments were flat.

Following the 2002 state recession, the state school-building agency put support for such projects on hold. That placed Stratton in limbo, and then the state agency decided the school did not meet standards to get state money for a rebuild. That continues to be the case, as the town has stepped upo where the state has not and is supporting all renovations of the school.

Some issues, responses

Here are issues raised May 26 and the responses to them:

-- Transportation: Stratton students are expected to be bused from Ottoson, and the school involved remains to be discussed. Bodie said she will strive to keep classes together.

-- Site requirements for a modular classroom: In general, seeking school with flat locations beside them.

-- Going over budget? "We don’t want to," Bodie said.

-- Air quality: Modular buildings must conform to state standards and are inspected.

-- Ottoson culture: One parent recounted a series of worrisome events: Bodie said her experience of the school is that it is "quiet" and that what the parent described is "not the norm."

-- Renovate Stratton but keep students there: Bodie said the town building committee had discussed that option, but found it would take too long and disrupt education.

-- Art, music, gym classes: special-needs students: issues to be worked out.

-- Permanent vs. modular units: Costs are significantly different, and this project will have some of both. Compare: permanent  temporary 

Subcommittee members present besides Starks and Hayner was Jeff Thielman.

At the May 14 School Committee meeting, Bodie reported confusion about the request for proposals for designers that had been submitted with an early version of the plan. She said the plan was not final and would be reevaluated based on what the design consultant says.

Hayner said he thought the RFP sought bids for option different than the one the committee had not wanted. Bodie called the difference "not very much."

Bodie called it a town decision and town officials do not see it as a problem.


May 7: Steps taken to move toward modular classes, and much to learn quickly

April 13, 2015: OPINION: Not Ottoson, Stratton parents ask

March 30, 2015: Modular classroom sites ID'd for Stratton students during 2016-17 renovation

March 22, 2015: Stratton School renovation moves forward; students to be relocated in 2016-17

Sept. 21, 2014: At last, study spells out steps for Stratton revamp, if it can be funded

Links to Stratton plans


This news summary was published Wednesday, May 27, 2015.

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