WINCHESTER - As the Town of Winchester gears up to go back to school, Superintendent Judy Evans spoke to the Winchester Daily Times Chronicle about elementary schools that need updating and how that process is going.
The two elementary schools that need the most updating are the Lynch Elementary School and the Muraco Elementary School.
Evans stated, "overall, district enrollment growth has exceeded classroom capacity, despite the addition of modular classrooms and the opening of their expected useful life as school buildings with both in need of significant building replacements (electrical, HVAC, doors, windows). Both schools are over 55 years old and neither has had significant renovation."
The Lynch Elementary School, built in 1961 was originally a junior high school. There has never been a major building renovation and this will be the first to be replaced. Evans commented that interior spaces have been reconfigured to meet elementary and preschool classroom needs. She noted the windows are steel-framed single panel and original to the building as are most doors, and they are in poor condition. The HVAC, electrical systems are also original to the building. The fire alarm system was last updated in 2009.
The school includes approximately 21 K-5 core classroom spaces of various square feet, from 800-1,200, and comparisons with current Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) space standards indicate that classrooms and core academic spaces are undersized. The school has converted many non-traditional classroom spaces into classrooms and specialized space to accommodate rapidly growing enrollment and changing program needs.
Five of the classrooms, Evans noted, lack natural daylight. She further explained that the art room was converted from kitchen space, library media space was converted into reading support rooms, and hallways have been converted to teacher workspace.
Historically, this building housed the district's pre-kindergarten program and two special education sub-separate programs, but due to the sustained growth from 2016-2017, two preschool classrooms moved from Lynch to the recently expanded Vinson-Owen School. This move was completed for the 2017-2018 year. However, the district's other elementary schools are similarly overcrowded, with two having had modular classroom additions in recent years.
The Muraco Elementary School, which was completed in 1966, houses grade K-5. It is predominately one-story and is built into a hill and includes an unoccupied lower-level floor in a walk-out-basement configuration. Evans went on to state that the space on the lower level is minimal, inaccessible, flood-damaged, and has not been used for instruction since the 1970s.
Muraco's original teaching pods were partitioned/divided over the years to accommodate a more traditional classroom-based teaching model in order to provide more individual classrooms for students, albeit smaller. Like the Ambrose School, two modular classroom buildings were added to the rear of Muraco in 2008 to address space constraints and in 2009 an interior space renovation/reconfiguration project added an additional two classrooms within the building's existing gross square footage.
Evan's stated that Muraco Elementary is the last remaining school in the district with a shared space for the gymnasium, auditorium, and cafeteria, which severely limits physical education, community meeting/education, and time scheduling.
Evans mentioned that the elementary school updating process is all outlined in the town's Master Plan as far as scenarios for completion timelines. She noted that the local approval process for a potential capital project with the MSBA would consist of having a joint meeting and vote both by the Select Board and School Committee, a recommendation of the Finance Committee, a vote of approval at Town Meeting, and final approval at a ballot vote.
The benefit of these updates would be sufficient space to adequately educate PreK-5 students. Evans indicated that "older buildings like these are difficult to heat and maintain and this project will not only update educational spaces but enable us to configure spaces so they are warm, comfortable, and require less energy costs."
The biggest challenge, Evans noted, was funding, and the approval process from MSBA depends on available state funding.