Just about two weeks ago, roughly 410 pupils in Woburn became the first students to ever set foot inside of the city's new 71,000 square foot Hurld-Wyman Elementary School by Lowell and Wyman Streets. It's an educational milestone rooted in an ambitious proposal formally adopted by local officials a dozen years ago.
The new educational facility, a LEED Silver certified building that includes various high-efficiency lighting, water use and energy systems, is the end result of a joint $35 million undertaking with the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) that began in 2013.
The state agency, which replaced the Mass. Dept. of Education's former School Building Assistance program, contributed $14.4 million for the new school, which joins student populations from the former Hurld and Wyman Schools.
A similar consolidation model was utilized in 2008, when pupils from the now demolished Clapp Elementary School by Horn Pond were redistricted to the new Goodyear School in East Woburn.
Since 2000, the state has provided tens of millions of reimbursement dollars for the construction of four other new educational buildings, including the community's $68 million flagship high school off Montvale Avenue.
Advanced planning drives design
Featuring 21 regular education classrooms, four art and music rooms, and 14 instruction areas for special education studies, meticulous planning went into the layout and design of the newest 3-story school, which also contains a unique second-story gymnasium and a 3,000 square foot library.
Part of those design elements tie right back to a school parity and consolidation plan recommended by a School Building Task Force back in 2006, when a 12-member study panel advised former Mayor Thomas McLaughlin and other officials to combine six of the city's antiquated elementary schools into three new facilities.
At the time, some detractors to that concept, noting Woburn had in the years prior expended millions of dollars to rebuild three other elementary-level facilities, bemoaned the possible loss of the city's neighborhood school model.
Aware of the concerns, school architect DiNisco Design Partnership clustered classroom learning levels together within wings of the new Hurld-Wyman, so a tighter sense of community could be maintained for each grade.
Also aware of strict MSBA rules that limit the size of new schools, the Boston architect also took an innovative approach to hallways by repurposing those common spaces as secondary learning areas. Specifically, because classrooms were clustered together by grade level, the designer was able to create what it labeled as a classroom "front porches", where pupils can break out into small group settings.
The new Hurld-Wyman School is also unique in that the building sits upon a 7.5-acre parcel with a dual parkland use. Specifically, the municipal land used for the undertaking, known as the "farmstand" section of the old Spence Farm, was purchased by the city back in 2010 for passive recreational purposes.
As part of a new arrangement, the 3.3-acre farmstand side of the parcel will remain under the jurisdiction of Woburn's Agricultural Commission, which commonly hosts outdoor events and community activities there.
To ensure that pact is honored, the City Council last month referred to its Ordinance Committee a resolve calling for the Wyman Street side of the land to be designated as Article 97 parkland. Requiring a vote of the state Legislature, that constitutionally-protected status, if granted, will virtually assure the Agricultural Commission will retain control of the parkland in perpetuity.
Schools and parks
As envisioned by Woburn's task force back in 2006, cities and towns are now facing stiff competition for grant funding from the MSBA, which has doled out some $13.4 billion for new school construction projects since its inception.
Back in 2006, when the mayoral study panel predicted future MSBA funding constraints would necessitate a consolidation model, the MSBA received 73 applications from school districts seeking grant dollars.
By contrast, last year, 156 so-called statements-of-interest were submitted by community officials for new school construction projects across the state, only 15 of which advanced further into the agency's funding pipeline.
By moving ahead with a 6-to-3 elementary school consolidation plan, Woburn is now just one school project away from meeting its long-stated objective of providing all students with equal access to the technological and program amenities available in modern-day schools.
In an unintended consequence, the community is doing more than investing serious dollars into its educational programs. It has also significantly expanded neighborhood access to parks and outdoor recreational centers.
This summer, after a decade wait, work on a major park project in Woburn's South End began thanks to the city's second-to-last elementary-level project, the new Goodyear School.
With pupils from the former Clapp School redistricted to that East Woburn facility back in 2010, the old 29,000 square foot building was razed to the ground late this summer.
Dating back to 1958, the shuttered school sat upon 2.9-acres of prime real estate overlooking scenic Horn Pond off of Arlington Road.
Last fall, Woburn's Recreation Commission unveiled plans to build a basketball court, playground, splash park, and a natural field for pickup sporting activities on the site. The new outdoor area will cost approximately $1 million, and when finished, it will become the only children's park in Woburn's South End.
Meanwhile, the opening of the new Hurld-Wyman School this year is expected to vastly expand other parkland resources in Woburn, as the site of the now shuttered Hurld Elementary School off of Bedford Road will eventually convert into Article 97 land.
Back in Aug. of 2016, thanks to legislation sponsored by State Rep. James Dwyer (D-Woburn), the 11.2-acre parcel of land off of Bedford Road was officially designated as protected conservation land.
So far, several ideas have been circulated by city officials regarding future uses of the Wyman School, including the possibilities of using it for housing or as a cultural center. With its unique gothic/victorian design, the educational facility, sitting on 3.6-acres of land in the busy Central Square area, dates back to 1892 and is considered one of the city's architectural jewels.