Former Gibbs School eyed to ease overcrowding; ACA director responds
UPDATED, Aug. 21: Stratton School students displaced by renovation in 2016-17 will remain in modular classrooms situated near the Turkey Hill elementary school under a plan facing a Sept. 10 vote.
The School Committee facilities subcommittee voted unanimously Wednesday, Aug. 12, to support the recommendation from Superintendent Kathleen Bodie. Stratton parents have strongly opposed previous plans to situate the students at Ottoson Middle School.
In a second surprise, first reported here Aug. 15, the subcommittee is also considering using the building housing the former Gibbs School in East Arlington to handle increasing enrollment among town schools. Those in charge at Lesley Ellis and the Center for the Arts have commented.
"No decision has been made on that and cannot be made on that until we involve all stakeholders and figure out costs and solving both short-term and long-term enrollment concerns," subcommittee chair Cindy Starks wrote in an email Friday, Aug. 14.
"The current Gibbs tenants have been told that there are plans that involve the schools taking back the Gibbs, but some [options under consideration] do not.
"We have to carefully weigh the use of the Gibbs and other solutions for costs and for the long term and short term needs of the town."
As to Stratton, Bodie told school's parents and guardians about her proposal Aug. 13. The architectural firm HMFH of Cambridge is completing an enrollment and space study to address growing school enrollment.
"What has become clear this summer is that are various options to consider and, additionally, that a decision to place modular classrooms at a particular elementary school or the middle school next year to address enrollment growth could preclude other options that may be preferable.
"Given that we need more time to make the best decisions for Arlington that meet our long-term needs that are also cost effective, I recommended last night to the Facilities Subcommittee of the School Committee that during construction all Stratton students remain at Stratton housed in modular classrooms on the adjacent blacktop and field. The recommendation was unanimously supported.
She reported DRA, the Waltham architectural firm selected to design the Stratton project, has said that we could use the cafeteria and gym during the school year, which was key to being able to make this recommendation.
"They have redesigned the sequence of the project so that the cafeteria and gym will be updated during the summer prior to reopening," she wrote. "The construction site will be separated by fencing from the blacktop and field."
She noted that other school districts, such as Needham, have handled relocation during construction in this way.
"This solution has the advantage of keeping the entire Stratton community together during construction," she wrote. "There are, of course, many details that still need to be worked out over the course of the next few months.
Assuming that the plan is approved, Bodie said she will work with Stratton Principal Michael Hanna to schedule a meeting for parents with DRA to review the modular plan.
Starks wrote that the Stratton architect is drawing up plans that to accommodate this change in plans for students.
Meeting on enrollment in September
"We had to decouple the Stratton from plans to deal with enrollment to enable us to make decisions for Stratton to keep in on time and on budget,” Starks wrote. "Keeping Stratton students on-site allows us to work within the confines of the already approved budget for the renovation."
She wrote that enrollment projections discussed among subcommittee members Aug. 12 "are also leading us to try to figure out what to do about overcrowding in some of our schools.
According to the numbers the subcommittee has, Arlington has three elementary schools -- Brackett, Thompson and Hardy -- that will need more space in the 2016-17 school year, "and then the Ottoson will explode after that," she wrote.
"So, we have many possible solutions to our growing student population, and some of them involve the use of the Gibbs."
The Gibbs was once called Junior High East and has for many years accommodated Lesley Ellis, a private school for preschool through grade eight.
Deanne Benson, head of school, wrote in an email Aug. 14 the school was notified about the population growth analysis just before the recent facilities subcommittee meeting, which she attended.
ACA makes its plea
Linda Shoemaker, executive director of Arlington Center for the Arts (ACA), responded Tuesday, Aug. 18:
"ACA has called the Gibbs Building home for 27 years. It would be extremely challenging without significant financial and logistical support from the Town to maintain seamless service and find a new home for the Arts Center on this short timeline.
"As the School Committee members consider their options, I hope they will remember the thousands of community members who need and treasure the Arlington Center for the Arts.
"Over 27 years ACA has enriched the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Arlington residents. Hundreds of Arlington families depend on ACA’s camps as the cornerstone of their summer and school vacations.
"Our youth and teen programs give creative kids and teens an important outlet and a place to call home. Our adult classes and art galleries serve hundreds a year, including seniors; our Theater hosts dozens of performances a year by small and emerging performing artists; our artist studios provide a home for a variety of studio artists and other organizations, including the Arlington Children’s Theatre. ACA’s free community events, such as Arlington Open Studios and Shakespeare in the Park add to the cultural vibrancy of our town
"The Arlington Center for the Arts is an integral part of the fabric of Arlington, and an important part of what makes Arlington an attractive place to live, work and visit. We hope the town will work with us to ensure a permanent home for the Arlington Center for the Arts."
Fellow tenants were likewise notified, she wrote.
Lesley Ellis, like the other tenants, has two years remaining on its lease. Its parent organization, Schools for Children, owns other real estate.
"We are making plans now to secure our permanent home and will have an announcement in the fall. Lesley Ellis is a 65-year-old independent elementary/middle school specializing in our nationally recognized anti-bias curriculum," she wrote. "We are also currently piloting a visiting scientist project modeled after our well known arts program. With our newly expanded middle school Lesley Ellis has 170 students."
It was been in Arlington since 1989, at the Gibbs Building the entire time.
Two other tenants, the Kelliher Center and Learn to Grow, had not responded to requests for comment at the time of original publication.
The School Committee is planning a townwide discussion about the enrollment growth and how to handle this in September. One date under discussion is Sept. 24.
One parent's response
"As a parent and a taxpayer, I am happy that the school department and the town have decided to decouple the Stratton renovation and relocation from the town wide enrollment situation. This relocation plan allows the school department significant flexibility as it tackles the very real challenges ahead due to increased enrollment and gives it a little bit more time to come up with a cohesive town-wide strategy. Stratton is a fabulous community and will come together to make the renovation year great for the students - being together is a huge benefit of this new plan."
July 2, 1025: Architect chosen for Stratton renovation
April 13, 2015: OPINION: Not Ottoson, Stratton parents ask
Links to Stratton plans
This report was published Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, and updated Aug. 21, to add fact that this story was first reported here.