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As public-school enrollment rises, officials, public grapple with future

UPDATED, Sept. 29: Rising public-school enrollment and how to accommodate those students in future years drew an estimated 200 people to Town Hall, as officials and the public offered their ideas about how to meet the challenges. Among the suggestions and reactions:

Dr. Jerome McKibbenDr. Jerome McKibben, demographer

Lori CowlesLori Cowles, architect

-- Reopening the former Gibbs Jr. High to classrooms, closed since the 1980s, drew pitches favoring and opposed;

-- Ideas calling for fifth graders at the Gibbs and eighth graders at the high school yielded some groans;

-- Two people, one a public official, suggested negotiating a possible arrangement with those who want to develop the Mugar site near Route 2; and

-- Three said the Parmenter School, also closed in the 1980s, is worth another look, but the school's architect said it was considered too small.

These are some of the ideas offered by speakers, 16 from the general public, in the last two hours of a School Committee meeting that concluded at 10:20 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24.

They were reacting to a tide of numbers presented by Dr. Jerome McKibben of McKibben Demographic Research, author of "Arlington Public Schools Population and Enrollment Forecasts," completed last June; and an array of space options from Lori Cowles of HMFH Architects of Cambridge. Its report was presented in part in August and completed this month. Both are online.

The numbers and suggestions stem from Arlington's attractiveness as a town.

Watch this meeting on ACMi >>

Expect 1,000 more in 10 years

"Arlington is such a wonderful place," said School Committee Chairman Paul Schlichtman, who moderated the meeting, and that has led to a dramatic rise in enrollment. He said that in 1993, when the state's Education Reform Act passed, the town had 3,700 public-school students and that has risen to 5,400.

"We need to expect another 1,000 in 10 years.

"This is not just a School Committee problem. We want an initial presentation to reach as wide an audience as possible.

"We are starting a process ... we are at the beginning stages of a vexing problem."

First, McKibben's numbers: Total district enrollment has increased 400, from 4,808 in 2010-11 to 5,208 in 2014-15. That number could be 5,400 once the Superintendent Kathleen Bodie reports the Oct. 1 total, the official number for the current year. The demographer's forecast sees an increase of 728 by 2019-20 (to 5,936) and another 162 by 2024-25 (to 6,098).

Bodie noted a significant variable in attempting to make the future picture clearer -- the renovation of Arlington High. The state School Building Authority is considering a second application

Next, Cowles outlined six scenarios as ways to deal with the growth (see all of them at the end of this summary). She referred to them twice as "a puzzle."

Reacting with suggestions and comments were town officials followed by residents.


Crowd at Town Hall on Sept. 24, 2015. / Glenn Koenig photoCrowd at Town Hall on Sept. 24. / Glenn Koenig photo

Charlie Foskett, chairman of the Capital Planning Committee, raised the possibility of negotiating with the developer to use the Mugar site. He offered no details about whether for school or community use. A Town Meeting member also asked about the option.

"We did not go there," Cowles said.

Selectman Joseph Curro Jr. added that the board not discussed this. "We're always willing to discuss anything," he said.

As to the option of using space at AHS for eighth graders, Curro asked whether the town offices now at the high school -- the comptroller, IT, retirement -- would remain in place.

Cowles said that would require study.

Support for ACA

As to the plan that would displace tenants at the former Gibbs Jr. High, Curro directed his comments to Bodie. One tenant, Arlington Center for the Arts, has a "history of partnership with the schools." He suggested a preliminary discussion to find a win/win solution, allowing ACA programs to continue.

Bodie said she is open to conversation, noting most programs in elementary schools end at 6 p.m. weekdays.

Cowles said she is interested in knowing how a "full-built school" at Gibbs would help and how the four programs now there would be addressed.

School Committee logo

"We certainly appreciate the programs at the Gibbs," Schlichtman said. "We want them to survive."

Later in the evening, Linda Shoemaker, executive director of the Center for the Arts, read a lengthy statement, which drew rousing cheers.

'Punch in gut'

Spurring some applause, Selectman Steven Byrne called the crowding at the Thompson School "a punch in the gut." He was referring to the fact that the $20 million school had opened in 2013 and joined the list of all elementary families except Stratton facing enrollment pressure.

He wanted to know what enrollment planning for Thompson had taken place.

Bodie had an answer: She cited tough state rules about how many students a school approved for funding can accommodate.

"The state [School Building Authority] has own calculator for a number," she said. "We had to redistrict and negotiated [the number frpm 340 to] 380," she said. [The Thompson building committee had wanted 420.]

"We were aware of the enrollment issue," she said. "We're now fully aware."

School Committee Jeff Thielman asked Cowles about her impression of the Gibbs as a school building and the process to verify its capacity.

She called it "smallish, with changes needed ... there is no longer a full-functioning kitchen." She called the exterior solid, and the interior needs lighting. Needs, she guessed, are upgrades for mechanical systems as well as those for technology. She said an architect would have to assess the range of issues.

The crowd remained respectful except for one instance.

School Committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe asked about the impact on enrollment forecasts in the light of the higher age at which women in Arlington give birth.

Responding, McKibben noted that he sees that in Massachusetts, the average age of first birth is 28. A series of audience members called out, "No," and Schlichtman asked for order.

[Read two Globe stories about older moms here, with Arlington mentioned, and here.]

McKibben also turned the mood around, asking, "How many here have kids?" Many hands shot up.

"How many of you are having more kids?" It was hard to see any hands rise, as many chuckled.

Former Parmenter use?

Allen Tosti, longtime chairman of the Finance Committee, asked whether the former Parmenter School might be used. Cowles didn't rule it out, but noted its smaller size.

He said that among the options to accommodate overcrowding (see all below), scheme 3 had attracts his attention because it appears to have the lowest cost.

Finance Committee Len Kardon asked whether the committee's school facilities subcommittee could be involved in enrollment/planning issues. Schlichtman said he thought the effort needed to be broader.

Bodie said a task force representing a wide swath of stakeholders has been recommended.

John Cole, chairman of the Permanent Town Building Committee, wanted to make sure the town's Planning Department, which manages leases at former town schools, be involved. He, too, suggested using the former Parmenter.

John Leone, moderator of Town Meeting, asked whether funds to deal with overcrowding, would come from the town's reimbursement from the state building authority. Bodie responded that the agency will not consider other project while the Arlington High rebuild process is under way.

Asked whether a debt exclusion might be considered, Bodie told Leone: "Yes."

'We're growing ..."

Among comments from Town Meeting members, those by Precinct 6 member Ted Peluso.

"This is a good thing," he said, referring to increasing enrollment. "We're growing. Otherwise, we would be in a retirement community."

He spurred applause when he added: "good real estate ... good schools."

As for using the former Gibbs, he imagined parents saying, "I'm not going to send my kids to a 100 year-old building? He added: "Why not building something new?"

More applause broke out when he said that the former Gibbs collects $330,000 a year in rental for buildings on which the town spends little.

Bodie reiterated that rebuilding Arlington High is the first priority.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine countered Peluso's remarks: "It is irresponsible to suggest [the former Gibbs] a cash cow ... The town clears $30,000 a year."


Here is a sampling among the 16 residents who spoke:

Representing the Center for the Arts, Shoemaker, read a statement that says, "The Gibbs organizations are not merely 'tenants.' Over the course of nearly 30 years, we have become part of the fabric of this town."

She emphasized the educational and creative connections: "All of these students have found a home at ACA -- a place where it is normal -- even celebrated -- to be creative, to do art, to sing, to dance, to be different." Read the full text here >>

A man who lives across the street from the former Gibbs said he thought a single-grade solution is "drifting away from purpose of education. He said he agrees with Peluso -- "build schools for a new generation."

He floated this idea: What if Gibbs were an arts/middle school?

Cultural district in works

Stephanie Marlin-Curiel, co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Commission, noted her group's role in seeking a way to draw funds for cultural facilities through having parts of town given cultural-district status.

Two representatives of the Arlington Children’s Theatre said its company, at Arlington Center for the Arts, presents nine productions a year, serving 500 children. "This is a town issue," not just a school issue, emphasized Matthew Lundeen, artistic director, and Nancy Morrison, ACT president.

Jessica Conway, a Thompson parent, said she "had not heard a lot about student experience. I want to know impact [of possible changes] on class sizes," which stirred some applause. "How will this assure there will be high-quality teachers in every classroom?"

As to the student experience, Schlichtman commented that modular classrooms "tend to be very nice."

Chris Loreti, a former member of the Redevelopment Board, raised questions about the former Crosby School, now Dearborn Academy, and the former Parmenter. Had the owners of the former been approached about the town's repurchasing it, and could the Parmenter become another elementary school? These queries received unclear responses.

A woman offered some history, noting the town had 11 elementary schools in the 1980s. Closed in that decade and latter sold were the Cutter and Locke schools. "Where did that money go?" she asked. "Why sell off the Crosby?" That transaction occurred more recently with Schools for Children, which operates Lesley Ellis at the former Gibbs.

One concerned parent said having eighth-graders at AHS "a ticking time bomb."

Sharon Shaloo said she found separating seventh- and eighth-grade students "really odd," adding that those involved need to rethink how students are grouped.

A Thompson moment noted the crowding there has led to lunch starting as early as 10:50 a.m. Cowles said she did not know that.

Mark Rosenthal provided numbers that he said supports returning the Parmenter to school use, to handle overcrowding at Brackett and Hardy.

A father had kind words for school officials. "I don't envy any of you."

Related links

Space Planning Report for Arlington Public Schools," HMFH Architects, September 2015 

"Arlington Public Schools Population and Enrollment Forecasts," Dr. Jerome McKibben, McKibben Demographic Research, June 2015 

Linda Shoemaker's statement supporting ACA

Sept. 10 comments to School Commitee about the Gibbs by Ted Wilson

Oct. 15, 2014: Public schools' enrollment continues to rise

Proposed options to deal with crowded classrooms

Source: HMFH report

A series of schemes were developed to accommodate the expected increase in enrollments. Each scheme addressed the anticipated peak year within the 10-year timeframe of the enrollment forecasts. Most of the elementary schools will see their highest numbers in school year 2019-20. The middle school will be at its highest expected enrollment in school year 2023-24, while the high school’s highest enrollment is shown to be school year 2024-25, which is the 10th year in the 10-year projections. It is possible the numbers may increase in the years beyond the 10-year forecast.

Stratton Elementary School

Ahead of the anticipated enrollment growth, there is an immediate need to accommodate the Stratton School population during school year 2016-17 when the school will be renovated. The initial schemes included incorporation of this temporary need for the Stratton population at other school sites that would then use the classrooms to accommodate their growth needs, specifically at Hardy, Thompson, and Ottoson. It became apparent that the immediate requirement to solve the Stratton temporary needs was then driving many other decisions that would have a long-term educational and fiscal impact. The decision to separate the Stratton temporary needs from the longer term needs of the district would then allow time to fully vet the various scenarios with a larger audience over a longer period of time. There- fore, the School Committee made the decision to accommodate the Stratton population in temporary modular space located on the Stratton site for the school year during renovations.


Schemes 1 and 1A propose additions either with modular construction (1) or with permanent construction (1A) to Hardy and Thompson Schools and renovations to Gibbs/East Middle School to accommodate the sixth grade by school year 2018-19.

Steps for Scheme 1:

• Modular classroom addition at Thompson school year 2016-17
• Modular classroom addition at Hardy school year 2017-18
• Relocate 2 SLC spaces from Brackett to Peirce school year 2017-18
• Temporary leased modular classrooms at Ottoson for school year 2017-18
• Renovate Gibbs School to accept 6th Grade in school year 2018-19
• High School planning schedule to be determined with MSBA

Steps for Scheme 1A:

• Temporary leased modular classrooms at Thompson school year 2016-17
• Addition at Thompson school year 2017-18
• Addition at Hardy school year 2017-18
• Relocate 2 SLC spaces from Brackett to Peirce school year 2017-18
• Lease modular classrooms at Ottoson for school year 2017-18
• Renovate Gibbs School to accept 6th Grade in school year 2018-19
• High School planning schedule to be determined with MSBA

Permanent construction at Hardy and Thompson would take one year longer than modular construction would, therefore in Scheme 1A Thompson would require two leased modular classrooms. Addition- ally, temporary, leased modular classrooms would be required at Ottoson to accommodate the increase of enrollment (forecasted to be an additional 125 students) in the intervening years.

In Scheme 1, there may be the possibility of shifting program spaces at Thompson to allow for a delay of installing the modular classrooms by one year, thereby installing them at the same time as those at Hardy. Installation of 12 modular classrooms as a single project may provide a small reduction in costs through the economies of scale.

Additionally, in an effort to eliminate the need to expand either Thompson or Hardy, Gibbs/East was assessed as to whether it could accommodate both the sixth grade and the Thompson and Hardy fifth graders. An addition of approximately 12 spaces (classrooms and specialists) and support facilities would be required at Gibbs/East. While it is likely that an addition of this size would be more costly than the two additions at the elementary schools, what is more problematic is to separate only a small cohort of fifth grade students from the elementary environment. Additionally the gym and cafeteria would not be expanded and cannot accommodate the nearly 700 students.

Schemes 1 and 1A will provide a unique opportunity for the 6th graders to coalesce as a class ahead of arriving to middle school. The shift in grade structure will require thoughtful review.

Scheme 2 proposes the fifth grade is located in a renovated Gibbs/ East Middle School and the eighth grade is located at Arlington High School.


• Temporary leased modular classrooms at Thompson school year 2016-17 and more in 2017-18
• Temporary leased modular classrooms at Hardy school year 2017-18
• Relocate 2 SLC spaces from Brackett to Peirce school year 2017-18
• Temporary modular classrooms at Ottoson for school year 2016-17 and more in 2018-19
• Renovate Gibbs School to accept 5th Grade in school year 2018-19
• Middle/High School planning schedule to be determined with MSBA

The construction required to accommodate the eighth grade would occur within the same timeframe as the High School study, design, and construction project should the town be invited into a feasibility study with MSBA within the next cycle or two of their process. In the intervening years there will be a need for leased modular classrooms at Hardy, Thompson, and Ottoson.

As noted in Scheme 1, there may be the possibility of shifting program spaces at Thompson, thereby requiring only two modular classrooms rather than four.

A result of implementing Scheme 2 is there would be an excess of unused space in most of the elementary schools.

Scheme 2A proposes shifting the 5th grade to Ottoson, the 7th grade to Gibbs/East, and the 8th grade to the High School site. The scheme is similar to Scheme 2 in terms of timeframe and costs. 

Both Schemes 2 and 2A will require thoughtful review of the proposed changes to the current grade structure model.

Scheme 3 proposes that all anticipated enrollment increases are accommodated with modular construction at Hardy, Thompson and Ottoson.


• Modular classroom addition at Thompson school year 2016-17
• Modular classroom addition at Hardy school year 2017-18
• Relocate 2 SLC spaces from Brackett to Peirce school year 2017-18
• Modular classroom addition at Ottoson for school year 2016-17, school year 2018-19 and school year 2021-22
• High School planning schedule to be determined with MSBA

Additions at Hardy and Thompson may be physically accomplished on the properties and would be strategically connected to the existing buildings. And while there will be an impact on the core shared use spaces (Gym, Cafeteria, and Library) and administrative services, it is believed with careful planning these spaces will be able to absorb the increase.
Conversely, to accommodate the Ottoson enrollment growth at the Ottoson site would have a negative impact on both the shared use spaces and support services. Ottoson’s population is expected to increase by 40% above the original design intent of the school building. Adding modular classrooms to accommodate the growth is only half of the solution, the Gymnasium, Library,
Cafeteria, Kitchen, Guidance, Health Services, and many other specialists would also need to “grow” to serve a student population of nearly 1500.

Scheme 4 proposes renovating and expanding Gibbs/East to accommodate both the 5th and 6th grades with temporary (until Gibbs is complete) modular classrooms at Hardy, Thompson, and Ottoson.


• Temporary leased modular classrooms at Thompson school year 2016-17 and more in 2017-18
• Temporary leased modular classrooms at Hardy school year 2017-18
• Relocate 2 SLC spaces from Brackett to Peirce school year 2017-18
• Temporary leased modular classrooms at Ottoson for school year 2016-17
• Renovate Gibbs School to accept 5th and 6th Grades in school year 2018-19
• High School planning schedule to be determined with MSBA

A sizable addition of classrooms would be required to accommodate approximately 550 fifth graders. The school property is 2.6 acres and an addition the size of what would be required would absorb most of the parking and likely the basketball court. The addition/renovations would not include expansion of the core interior shared spaces, cafeteria, gymnasium, library, art, and music, and the current configuration would not accommodate 1100 students.

See Appendix E for a spreadsheet graphic representation of the schemes. See Appendix F for the potential classroom layout at Gibbs School.


At this time only rough comparison cost implications have been developed to begin to understand the potential future impact of each of the schemes; see Appendix E. Comparative costs are developed as a helpful tool to understand the order of magnitude of each proposed scheme as it compares to the others. They are not cost estimates. Cost estimates are not a required scope of the space planning effort at this time. The comparative costs are shown within a high-low range, again to provide an order of magnitude within which to compare the various space planning schemes. The following assumptions were used:

Type                                             Low                                                                               High

New construction: $350/square feet plus 20% soft costs = $390/square feet          $375/square feet plus 20% soft costs = $450/square feet

Renovation: $175/square feet plus 20% soft costs = $210/square feet                     $250/square feet plus 20% soft costs = $300/square feet 

Purchased modular*: ~$350/square feet                                                                ~$420/square feet 

Leased modular*: ~$80/square feet  plus ~$38/square feet/year                            ~$92/square feet  plus ~$44/square feet /year

* The leased and purchased modular classroom costs noted are for stacked (multistory) modular construction; an increase of 33% is used to capture the "stack factor." Additionally, the value used for the purchased modular classrooms assumes upgrades to the typical manufactured classroom module. Upgrades may include increased R-value of the exterior wall insulation, improved window performance and roofing material, and higher efficiency (and quieter), longer-life mechanical equipment; an increase of 50% is used to capture the upgrade factor.

The comparative costs do not include escalation or costs for any upgrades that may be required to the existing school buildings to receive modular classroom additions in order to meet current building codes. Additionally, the comparative costs do not include the temporary modular construction at Stratton Elementary School; this cost is carried separately in the Stratton renovation project budget.

This report was published Monday, Sept. 28, 2015., and uodated Sept. 29, to clarify Thompson numbers and add ACMi link.

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