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CROWDING CRUNCH: Arts, educators, nonprofit make pitches

 Those who cannot get into the room at Town Hall watch School Committee Chairman Paul Schlichtman from the door. Those who cannot get into the room at Town Hall watch School Committee Chairman Paul Schlichtman from the door.

School officials sympathize,
swing for fair route to solution

UPDATED, Oct. 13: Representatives of the four longtime tenants occupying the former Gibbs Jr. High fought with words, backed by button-wearing protesters, to keep their "home."

As 75 wedged into the selectmen's chambers at Town Hall Thursday, Oct. 8, and an estimated 15 listened outside, School Committee members made clear they do not want to put the four on the street.

School Committee logoPhotos by Glenn Koenig
See more >>

"We want you to know how much we support Gibbs," said committee member Cindy Starks. "This is not an us-versus-them. This is not just our decision. This is a townwide decision. Keep making voices heard.

"The people with the money help us make this decision."

It was the largest crowd at a public meeting in that location since February 2010, when Arlington High students urged the selectmen to consider an override. The School Committee met at Town Hall because the elevator to the high school's sixth floor, where members usually meet, is out of order, with no word about when it will be fixed.

Taking back the former Gibbs for classrooms is among a range of options to address overcrowding at Arlington Public Schools discussed at a Sept. 24 meeting at Town Hall auditorium

Ideas continued to flow Oct. 8, as tenants, supporters and parents made their pleas -- and School Committee members struggled to find a frame in which to deal with what Chairman Paul Schlichtman called "one of the most difficult decisions we will have to make."

Support for Center for the Arts

First, the public had a chance to speak and the four tenants had 30 minutes to makes their cases.

During public participation, Alexis Moisand, an Arlington High graduate who ran for School Committee last spring, said that two years ago he was an office manager for LARP,  an adventure program for young people. He was at Ottoson seeking space, and the ACA "came out of the blue and saved us."

Learn to Grow, an early childhood program since 1987 and a tenant since 1989, has a faculty/staff of 21. Marianne Racioppi, its executive director, said: "We need to find solutions for all Arlington children." As to relocating nearby, she said, there are "no options in East Arlington -- none." 

Read her full statement here >>

Parent Megan Panzano, an architect and mother of a preschooler at Learn to Grow, provided a critique of space-planning options presented Sept. 24. Most troubling to her, she said, "was the absence of any option that proposed the expansion of core shared spaces in the schools -- cafeterias, gymnasiums, auditorium spaces and libraries."

Read her full statement here >>

As Linda Shoemaker, executive director of the Arlington Center for the Arts, got ready to speak, Schlichtman asked that a banner supporting ACA held in the doorway to the selectmen's chamber not be held in the room, and the person holding it withdrew.

The center, leasing 12,000 feet of space at Gibbs since 1989, is "a nearly a 24/7 kind of place, and having a dedicated space is critical," Shoemaker said.

Its studios provide 16 working artists with their livelihoods, its galleries give 200 local artists a place to show and its theater saw 150 concerts, plays and workshops last year.

"Leave it in this [87]-year-old building," she said, as the crowd erupted with hoots and shouts of support.

Read her full statement here >>

Next spoke Ellen Dalton, senior vice president at Eliot Community Human Services, the organization that oversees the Kelliher Center, a day service provider for more than 80 with developmental disabilities and brain injuries, at Gibbs since 1989.

"Our staff are from the Arlington community," she said. "Most staff have worked at the center for 10 or more years. Some 20-plus. ... And the men and women who attend Kelliher are like a big family."

Suggestion for AHS rebuild

Ted Wilson, executive director of Schools for Children, which operates Lesley Ellis School, a Gibbs tenant since 1989.
Lesley Ellis traces its roots to the founding of the Cambridge School for Girls in 1886.

YourArlington reported in August that Lesley Ellis expects to announce this fall its plans for a permanent home. 

Wilson had a suggestion: As part of the effort to rebuild Arlington High, "look hard" at making it an eighth- through 12th-grade school.

He also asked that a member of the Gibbs community be considered to be a member of the task force involved in making decisions about public-school enrollment issues here. He said he hoped he would know by December which town bodies will make decisions. That is also the month that school officials expect to know whether their second application to fund an AHS rebuild can move forward.

Read his full statement here >>

School Committee weighs how to proceed

To all of this, the members of the School Committee had plenty to say.

Echoing Starks's plea for a broader view of responsibility, Jennifer Susse said, she preferred not to make decisions "in a closed room."

Jeff Thielman, noting all three of his children have been in ACA programs, called for "a concrete plan," one that is creative and considers many options. He added: "I like what Ted said."

Bill Hayner, citing enrollment and space issues at the elementary level and in eighth grade, said he wants an agenda item to address these matters at a future meeting.

Kirsi Allison-Ampe provided balance, making sure all knew that the lone reason the committee was considering the former Gibbs -- that town schools are "bursting at the seams."

Schlichtman praised his colleagues and said he supports all that they have said. He urged those in the audience to run for Town Meeting, where they can vote on these issues.

He retained his characteristic humor with  bite, telling to Town Meeting member Ted Peluso, who was in the audience, "We won't be building a new school in the swamp over there." He was referring to the Mugar site, along Route 2.

Struggling with complexity

Committee comments at the end of the meeting, after most of the audience had left, reflected the complexity of the issue.

"I'm not sure how to move forward," Starks said. "We need a brainstorming session including wacky, crazy ideas."

Schlichtman tried to clarify: Arrange joint responsibility between facilities and community relations, with the latter taking the lead.

Hayner agreed the effort needs to be broad, but it should start with small group and expand.

Thielman said all need to know what the deadlines and timelines are for moving ahead. He suggested that the superintendent and town manager should "tell us."

Member Jud Pierce was absent.

Committee chair explains why meeting stayed put

Given the overflow crowd at the selectmen's chambers Oct 8, YourArlington asked School Committee Chair Paul Schlichtman whether considered moving the meeting to Town Hall auditorium. He responded Sunday, Oct 11:

"I was hoping the committee could have a conversation with the Gibbs tenants. We are all aware that the tenants provide a valued service to the town, and Arlington is a better place because of their work. They didn't need to convince us of their value or the support they have in the community.

"I asked Linda Shoemaker [Center for the Arts executive director] to bring her best thinking, and specifically asked her not to bring a crowd with her. We acknowledge the support that was demonstrated at the previous meeting, and I thought the crowd and the cheering got in the way of having a conversation with the tenants. I view the meeting as a missed opportunity to learn something new and to explore new options.

"I knew we had a crowd that was slightly overflowing the space. I also wanted the entire community to be able to see our discussion on all matters before the committee. If we made a last minute decision to move downstairs, the people in the room could have moved but ACMi wouldn't be able to follow and the community wouldn't be able to watch a televised meeting. That's why I decided to stay where we were."

Related links

Sept. 28, 2015: As public-school enrollment rises, officials, public grapple with future

Space Planning Report for Arlington Public Schools," HMFH Architects, September 2015 
Linda Shoemaker's statement in September 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 Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015, and updated Oct. 13, to correct two phrases and to add a statement.

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