December 1 2019

School Committee Hears Feedback on Elementary School Building Options

By: Rich Hosford

There was a lengthy discussion about what could be done with the configuration of Burlington’s elementary school buildings during the most recent School Committee meeting. 


The public feedback had been requested by the committee as it contemplates starting what would be a long process of applying to the state for funds to help pay for whatever final iteration is agreed upon. The need for some kind of change is being prompted by both changes in student enrollment and the fact that two of the elementary school buildings, Fox Hill and Pine Glen, are showing their age. 


“The current student enrollment projections in Burlington Public Schools indicate a clear need for more space at the elementary school level in the near future,” a notice from the department says. 


Members of the School Committee and Superintendent Eric Conti said very clearly during the meeting that this is the beginning of the process and that it would take years before anything actually changes. 


“This is the very beginning of the conversation,” Chair Martha Simon said at the opening of the discussion. “We wanted to ensure there was opportunity for public participation. We have been discussing it on the surface for the last several months and we want to make sure that we hear from all members in town.”


Conti said that if the department were to submit a proposal to the state in April as it is considering doing and it was approved it would take at least six to seven years to go through the state process. 


“We received contacts in panic that we are breaking ground next week,” he said. “That is not true.” 


The four options up for discussion were: 

1. Current four school, four site configuration. 

2. Maintain a four school configuration but build two elementary schools on the Fox Hill site with shared common spaces. Give up the Pine Glen site. 

3. Create a 3 school elementary configuration with a large Fox Hill (similar to Marshall Simonds, about 800 student enrollment) and give up Pine Glen as an elementary school. 

4. Pine Glen converted to a PreK-K early childhood center. Three elementary schools configured for grades 1 through 5. 

The feedback from residents was varied but there was a general consensus that nobody wanted one large elementary school of up to 800 students. There was a lot of discussion of how the smaller schools helped students feel comfortable and develop a sense of community. For that reason many people also spoke against the idea of converting Pine Glen into a PreK-K early childhood center as that would cause an extra transition for the students and prevent the younger students from bonding with older ones from the start. 

There were also some residents of the Fox Hill area that said that putting one large school or two smaller ones on the site would create significant traffic problems. They argued that the neighborhood was not built to handle that much traffic. 

We put together a montage of many of the points made at the meeting. You can watch that here

There are some other unknowns that may prove pivotal in any future planning. School Committee Christine Monaco pointed out two of them; The state may not be willing to help pay for two new schools at once and that when Pine Glen was originally built it was done so with a special permit to allow it to be built in a wetland. She said that a re-build at that site may not get such permission. 

“My first choice would be to continue the model we have but the problem we run into is can we get the state to pay for another two schools?” she said. “We don’t know that. It might take a very long time to get to the second. Also of concern is whether we are we are able to build on the Pine Glen site because it is wetland. We are jumping the gun because we don’t know if we can build on the Pine Glen site but if we can my preference is to build on the two separate sites.”

 This will be an ongoing discussion and we will continue to cover it on BNEWS.


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