Population increase demands new renovation plans

Conor Ross, Staff Writer

Conor Ross / Sagamore staff
The large increase in the high school population demands the need for both short term and long term solutions to overcrowding at the high school.

What do we know about the overcrowding problem?

Enrollment in Brookline schools is increasing at a fast rate. According to 2016 enrollment projections, the high school has about 2,000 students, but in five years this will increase to almost 2,400. The rapid surge in enrollment creates issued related to school space, resources and budget.

According to Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason, this enrollment increase is expected to continue for a while.

listen “We had 1,750 in ’10-’11, and here we are just at 2,000,” Mason said. “But you go out five years to ’21-’22, and you are up to almost 2,400, and three years after that you are over 2,500 kids.”

Sascha Wolf-Sorokin / Sagamore staff

Sascha Wolf-Sorokin / Sagamore staff

Last year the high school was pursuing a Statement of Interest (SOI) from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to get funding for its renovation. However, according to Mason, the school is no longer considering the SOI as an option for funding.

“The town is going to fund both the construction of the ninth (elementary school) and the expansion of the high school out of its own funds, and it is not going to rely on the state to assist with that funding,” Mason said. “The state basically told us that they weren’t going to give us money. The state is already funding the Edward Devotion School project, so essentially the state said, ‘No, we’re funding that one. We’re not going to fund the other one.’”

While the town is no longer relying on the SOI to fund parts of the new projects, according to Chairman of the Brookline School Committee Susan Wolf-Ditkoff, the town has passed a three year override to its current debt ceiling, allowing the town to spend more money than usual.

“There was this Override Study Committee in 2014 that released about a 120 page report, and they concluded a five year budget deficit and that we needed an override,” Wolf-Ditkoff said. “In 2015, from a financial point of view, we passed a three year override recognizing that we were going to have further structural deficits in the year to come.”

What are the short term plans for dealing with overcrowding?

According to Wolf-Ditkoff, the primary way that the town has created space in schools has been by moving programs that aren’t necessary in the building to other rented spaces around the town.

“We have accommodated growth by carving 54 additional classrooms out of our existing buildings, by increasing class size, by moving the Brookline Early Education Program into rental spaces and by moving adult administrative into rented spaces, which is what I would call really, really nice band-aids,” Wolf-Ditkoff said.

According to Mason, while it is nice to have some of these programs located at the high school, the relocation has not had a negative effect on the programs or their participants. Mason said that these programs were easily relocated because there is no pressing need for them to be located in the high school.

“There is no need for IT (Information Technology) to be here,” Mason said. “Obviously, we are one of the biggest users of the IT department in the town so it’s certainly helpful to have them here. We miss not having some of those services here, but they didn’t necessarily needed to be located here.”

What don’t we know about the overcrowding problem?

According to Mason, one of the next steps in the renovation process is investigating how spaces close to and available at the high school are used.

“There’s a whole bunch of possibilities and certainly it would seem that sometime in the next couple of years we will send some of our students over to the Old Lincoln School to ease the crowding here on this campus,” Mason said. “After that, we don’t know. We will look at the feasibility study, which will look at things like how we use the Tappan Gym, the extra space that is sitting on the side of the UA building and any other space in the immediate vicinity.”

Conor Ross / Sagamore staff
The results of an upcoming feasibility study will help to determine what the possible options are for a future high school renovation.

According to Mason, the long term plans for dealing with overcrowding are still undecided and remain subject to the results of an upcoming feasibility study.

“There are no plans yet. What we have so far is an architect who has been hired to do a feasibility study that will figure out how, given the space we have here and the potential space we have elsewhere, we will be able to accommodate the greater number of students,” Mason said. “We don’t have the answers to it yet, but this whole year the architects will work with the school and the town to come up with some solutions.”