Building schools that meet current state standards and support all of Wellesley's learners requires more square footage, regardless of total capacity.
Sprague School, Wellesley's largest elementary school at about 68,000 square feet, is the only K-5 school in town that has been entirely rebuilt since a landmark special education law in the 1970s required school districts to provide appropriate services to all children.
Since then, the delivery of education has changed dramatically, and every new school across the Commonwealth is being built to reflect this. Elementary schools are bigger, in order to meet modern standards for providing public education for kids. They are bigger to meet modern building codes, and bigger to provide flexible buildings that provide long-term value to their communities.
Hunnewell and either Hardy or Upham will be built to the new standards, which have been further refined by the Massachusetts School Building Authority over the past decade, with guidance and input from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. These standards now include:
Classrooms of 900-1,000 square feet (1,200 square feet, including a toilet, for kindergarten)
A separate gym and cafeteria/auditorium
Standards for office and conference spaces, for custodial and "back-of-house" spaces
Standards for the size and number of learning centers, OT/PT rooms, and small group rooms
Standards for the number of toilets, for lockers or cubbies, for appropriate hallway/circulation space, and for storage space
And a STEM/STEAM lab, which Wellesley will use as the "19th classroom" in the event of future fluctuations in enrollment.
The MSBA requires all towns partnering with them to meet these minimum standards when building new schools, with very few exceptions for extenuating circumstances. (Wellesley, for example, does not need a full kitchen at the new elementary schools, because food for K-5 students is prepared at the Middle School. The MSBA will allow for a smaller kitchen setup.)
A new Hardy or Upham School, which is being built through the MSBA program, must meet these requirements to be approved. And although the Hunnewell School is being built independently and will be entirely town-funded, it is being designed as a "sister" school to Hardy/Upham, and will include the same features with small differences to accommodate specialized programs (see below).
The MSBA also requires towns to develop educational plans to ensure the new building has been well thought out. As this has become standard practice even when not building with the MSBA, Wellesley has developed an educational plan for both Hunnewell and for Hardy/Upham. This vision for the new buildings was developed with a collaborative process that has included - and continues to include - input from teachers, administrators, committee members, and parents.
As part of the educational planning, Wellesley has targeted two additional features that are not part of the MSBA standards, but are frequently included by our peer communities:
The current plans include "learning commons," or centralized spaces for each grade level that allow for additional flexibility for small-group instruction, project-based learning, and pullout services. Both the Hunnewell and Hardy/Upham plans include six learning neighborhoods, one for each grade, which will add about 650 square feet apiece to the core academic spaces.
The current plans include slightly larger gymnasiums of 7,000 square feet, compared to the standard of 6,000 square feet. This is designed to provide opportunity for additional community use, as there is a shortage of gym space in town. In particular, the larger gym at Hunnewell can provide centrally located overflow space after school hours for both the Wellesley High and Wellesley Middle sports teams.
District-wide specialized programs
Designing new buildings provides an exciting opportunity to include spaces that are specifically designed to serve two of the district-wide specialized programs, the Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC) at Hunnewell and the Skills program at Upham.
The TLC program serves students who have difficulty with resolving conflict or may be prone to emotional or behavioral dysregulation. The purpose-built spaces for this program will amount to about an additional 2,000 square feet of the academic core of the new Hunnewell building.
The Skills program for students on the autism spectrum is the district's largest specialized program, at nearly three dozen students, and is by far the most space intensive. It requires four classrooms to meet the needs of the students it is serving and requires an additional 4,000-5,000 square feet in total, all investments that are likely to be reimbursable by the MSBA. As the program has grown in recent years, the district has needed to convert storage space into classroom space for the Skills program, and still is unable to meet the space needs for those students in its current location.
All of this means larger, more flexible buildings
Currently, Hunnewell is targeted at about 76,000 square feet, while the new Hardy/Upham is targeted at about 80,000 square feet, though neither size has been finalized. Both will serve three classrooms per grade - the same number of students as the other four schools. But because they are newer, they will be larger.
Advocates for the "Yes" vote appear to want to build three new schools and shrink their square footage in a way that will both result in substandard buildings, and limit the long-term flexibility of schools that should be designed to serve our students for 50 years or more.
Please join us in voting "NO" on Question 1, and show your support for the further modernization of our elementary schools, and support for long-term value provided by flexible buildings with the appropriate spaces for all of our students.