What is the problem that voting YES on Question 1 solves?
The Select Board, School Committee, and Town Meeting have endorsed a multi-site plan to address overcrowding and substandard conditions across Brookline schools. Question 1 on the ballot will fund a new fossil fuel-free Baldwin School with 27 classrooms and a new, fossil fuel-free Driscoll School with 10 additional classrooms. Pierce will be renovated in the near future with financial assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. This plan is like a three-legged stool, and we need to do all three projects to solve the town-wide space shortage.
You can see plans for Baldwin and Driscoll below and read much more about the projects here.
Why can’t we continue to expand in place?
We have expanded in place as much as we can. Since 2006, the K-8 school population has increased by more than 40 percent, or about 1,600 students.
Our schools are using every inch of space that they have. We have converted closets, locker rooms, hallways, and even bathrooms into work and learning areas. Many students, teachers and administrators are in shared, inappropriate, and substandard spaces, and our libraries, cafeterias and gyms are overtaxed. This is demoralizing to students, teachers, and other staff.
We have tried to band aid the problem with rented space and modular classrooms, but these “expand in place” solutions are not sufficient to solve our problems; we are still overcrowded, and we simply need to build more real capacity and a 9th elementary school.
You can read more about the space crunch and why can’t we continue to ‘expand in place’ in Superintendent Andrew Bott’s report on school overcrowding.
Is there a problem with our enrollment projections?
Any future projections have a margin of error. Enrollment has been a problem for more than a decade; the elementary schools are already substantially over capacity. Current enrollment is why the town plans to build larger schools at Baldwin and Driscoll and renovation/expansion at Pierce — not because of predicted future growth. Just holding steady at current enrollments will mean school buildings will be crammed indefinitely — that’s before the impacts of planned 40Bs and rapid development town wide.
What are the costs to build Baldwin and Driscoll?
Baldwin is the fastest and least expensive way to get the capacity we need: the current estimate is $82.9M. Driscoll is estimated to cost $108.8M. Especially when compared to piecemeal and ultimately insufficient add-ons, there is no more economically efficient solution for educating large numbers of children than building a new school.
What are the projected tax impacts of building Baldwin and Driscoll?
A chart below illustrates the debt service impacts. Please be aware that these forecasts are based on the conservative assumption that the borrowing rate the Town will pay will be 5%.
The impact on taxpayers may well be less than the conservative forecasts. For example, the Coolidge Corner School (formerly Devotion) was approved by Brookline voters in 2015. At that time, the Town forecasted a conservative 5% rate on the bonds that Town Meeting would authorize to pay for that project. However, because of Brookline’s AAA bond rating and a favorable borrowing climate, all of the Coolidge Corner School bond issuances have been less than 3%.
The Town had a similar experience when it issued bonds for part of the debt exclusion for Brookline High School. In that case, too, we secured a much more favorable rate of 2.97%. Therefore, while the following chart uses the conservative rate of 5% to forecast tax impacts, our recent history on bond rates has been more favorable.
Will the new schools be green?
Yes. In December 2018 Town Meeting committed to building Baldwin and Driscoll as Fossil Free Fuel (FFF) buildings. The Baldwin building in particular (a design called “Solar Harvest”) will maximize the use of the sun and reduce the need for artificial light and heating and cooling. This is a precedent setting policy which affirms our commitment to combat climate change.
Why not focus on Pierce?
Pierce is in the works. Brookline is partnering with Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) on a Pierce expansion so that we can get reimbursement of costs, perhaps up to 25-30% of the total. We aim to have an expanded Pierce by 2024.
How are we addressing transportation, parking and traffic?
Will kids who live close to a school in North Brookline now get bussed across town?
No. Baldwin will be a small school (450), and will include BEEP (45), RISE (30), and an ELL program with town wide draw. Because of the small size, plus the existing and anticipated need in South Brookline, Baldwin will not have to pull kids from far away (except those enrolled in RISE or ELL). At the same time, there are so many kids and so many schools close together in North Brookline, that we will not see major shifts in how far kids are from their assigned schools.
What will be done to mitigate traffic impacts at Baldwin and Driscoll?
The Brookline Transportation Board and staff have worked with the school Building Committees to ensure traffic works safely and efficiently at Baldwin and Driscoll. Improvements to traffic patterns and roads, traffic light timings, traffic calming, pedestrian crossings and other safety measures are planned at both schools. Near Baldwin, the plan includes renovated sidewalks and additional sidewalks where there are none currently, making the pedestrian experience safer for all.
Where will teachers park at Driscoll and Baldwin?
Each school will have 25 spots for teachers and visitors on site. Based on the Transportation Board’s criteria (up to 40% of available parking spots on any street can be reserved for teachers), between on-site and street parking, there will be sufficient parking for the entire staff. This parking situation resembles that of many of our schools.
I have heard that the Select Board “bundled” the Driscoll and Baldwin projects into one question on the ballot. What does that mean and why was it done?
Proposition 2 ½, Massachusetts’ tax limitation statute, allows municipalities to raise the tax levy by means of overrides and/or debt exclusions. Capital projects may be combined into one debt exclusion question because some capital projects are necessarily intertwined. For instance, a municipality needs both a front-end loader and a dump truck for snow removal. One without the other does not get the job done, so the purchase is bundled. Similarly, Baldwin and Driscoll are interdependent projects.
We have been searching for more than 12 years for a solution to the overcrowding in our elementary schools. We have looked at many sites over and spent much time, financial resources and energy on the search. First, we expanded our current schools to their current capacity. Then our search was focused on finding a site for one 9th school big enough address the overcrowding town wide. When no single site for a large school could be identified, the town opted for the current three-school plan – see the first FAQ and click on “about the projects”. (see first question, above)
Since one school plan cannot stand alone, the Select Board decided to have one question which includes both schools on the ballot. One question is a more democratic path forward in this sense; if there were two questions and one failed, we would have to go back to the drawing board to solve our overcrowding problem. It would be dishonest to mislead voters into thinking that one of the plans could stand on its own.
What about Newbury College site on Fisher Hill? Can we use that for an elementary school?
The Newbury College site is being offered for sale. Here are some of the barriers to the use of Newbury as an elementary school:
Will the Town be able to acquire it?
That is an unknown. The Town will be competing with other potential buyers, and will have to find a way to fund the purchase. These are huge questions, which a committee of skilled individuals is working on, but it may take months before the outcome is known. School construction costs are currently escalating at approximately 8% per year; therefore, we not only lose valuable time, but also we incur increased costs with any further delay. In the meantime, Brookline teachers and students would continue in overcrowded conditions.
If the Town is able to buy Newbury, can’t we just move an elementary school into the buildings that already exist?
No, the current buildings on the Newbury site are inappropriate for an elementary school; the buildings themselves are too small and classrooms are not the appropriate size, there is no gymnasium, the dormitory rooms would be costly and difficult to convert to classrooms, and the existing facilities do not meet state or Brookline standards. If and when we purchase Newbury, we would begin the school planning process all over again, setting us back several years while costs continue to escalate and Brookline teachers and students remain crammed into overcrowded schools.
If the Town is able to buy Newbury, is it in a suitable geographic area for an elementary school?
No. Newbury is not in an appropriate geographic area for an elementary school. It is very close to two other schools, approximately 1000 feet from Runkle and approximately 1500 feet from Heath. Furthermore, Newbury is in one of the least dense parts of town, and the two existing schools are able to handle the neighborhood need. If we draw a ½ mile area around Newbury, we see that both Runkle and Heath fall within that area. Therefore, in order to use Newbury to reduce overcrowding, we would need to bus students from both the north and south sides of town and consider extensive redistricting.
For the reasons above, Newbury is certainly not an appropriate site for the 9th school.