MIDDLESEX - With Wilmington’s newest elementary school now more than a half-century old, town officials will likely explore a districtwide school consolidation plan when studying options for replacing the district’s 66-year-old Wildwood Early Childhood Center.
But first, the town’s citizenry must okay that broader conversation by appropriating an estimated $1 million for a joint feasibility study with the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA).
Just days before Christmas, Wilmington Town Administrator Jeffrey Hull predicted that the community’s Select Board would in the coming days call for a Special Town Meeting to be convened in early March to authorize that $1 million expenditure.
Hull’s message, posted on Dec. 21 to the Town of Wilmington’s website, comes some eight months after the MSBA agreed to partner with the community to consider viable options for replacing the educational facility off of Wildwood Street by the northern portion of the community.
According to Hull, if the town fails to appropriate the funding by March 28, the community stands to lose its status as a leading contender for millions of dollars in state reimbursements for the potential construction project.
“The Town has the opportunity to have a portion of the design and construction costs of a new school or modification costs to existing schools paid for by the state. The [MSBA] is the sole state grant issuing authority for funding rehabilitation of existing schools or new school construction,” Hull explained.
“If funding is approved, an Owners Project Manager (OPM) who serves as the town’s representative and an architect would be hired to examine options including replacement of the Wildwood School building with another building to accommodate pre-kindergarten and kindergarten or consolidating grades such as establishing a pre-kindergarten to grade 3 school or a pre-kindergarten to grade 5 school,” the town manager continued.
Last April, Wilmington learned it had been invited into the MSBA’s funding pipeline after town officials advanced a bold proposal to merge as many as three of the district’s six aging elementary schools into a brand new pre-K through grade 5 elementary school at a new Wildwood facility.
Specifically, according to a report submitted to the MSBA in September, Wilmington may consider shifting away from a multiple transition model that has the community’s children attending three separate schools during their elementary years. Presently pupils, attend either the Wildwood or Boutwell Early Childhood Center for their pre-K and kindergarten studies before moving on to the Woburn Street or Shawsheen Elementary School for grades 1 through 3. Wilmington pupils then cap off their elementary studies by moving onto grades 4 and 5 at either the West Intermediate or North Intermediate Schools.
“This project is considering exploring bringing together three current schools (Wildwood, Woburn Street and North Intermediate) resulting in a grade configuration of PK-5,” town officials wrote in last fall’s follow-up report to the MSBA.
“Given the size of the facility, it will be important for us to create a sense of smaller school communities within the facility. As an example, that might include operating two PK-5 schools operating under one roof with shared common facilities or subdividing the grade level configurations into a school community that serves the early elementary (e.g. PK-2) and late elementary (Grade 3-5),” district officials added.
As explained by Schools Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand during a Select Board meeting last March, the latest consolidation plan was circulated to the MSBA after Wilmington submitted six so-called statements-of-interest (SOI’s) in May of 2020 indicating the community’s desire to modernize all of the district’s elementary school facilities.
As Wilmington’s oldest educational facility, the approximate 29,000 square foot Wildwood School, which serves 183 pre-K and kindergarten students, was identified as most in need of being replaced or renovated.
“There is no question in [the MSBA’s] mind that we as a community have considerable need for assistance given we have six schools at the age that they are. It’s also clear to the MSBA that consolidation makes sense. MSBA also realizes that if we’re going to go down the path of consolidation, there’s a lot of paths we can consider,” Brand explained during a Select Board forum about the potential consolidation model last spring.
According to town officials, the Wildwood School presently sits on a parcel of land containing 7.5 acres with two existing parking lots and a series of playgrounds and fields.
Besides lacking important life safety features like a modern day sprinkler system, the masonry building is deteriorating due to water damage and lacks sufficient insulation and energy-efficient windows. Town officials also say the school’s heating, cooling, and electrical systems are in dire need of an update.
“The Wildwood Early Childhood Center was constructed 65 years ago as a school for older elementary students. The facility has limited classroom storage, and inadequate sized classrooms according to what is considered appropriate. Given the antiquated physical facility, the building is not conducive to 21st century teaching and learning,” school officials wrote in their original May of 2020 SOI submittal to the MSBA.
The idea of consolidating the district’s six elementary schools into larger buildings is not new, as back in 2018, a master plan prepared by an outside consulting firm recommended merging the district’s six existing schools into four modernized facilities.
Under that years-old proposal, the study team suggests the town construct a pair of pre-K through grade 2 schools and a second set of elementary facilities to serve students in grades 3 through 5.
According to town officials and Brand, last fall’s supplemental submission to the MSBA, which examined a six-to-two school model, does not preclude the possibility of re-examining other merger options during the joint feasibility study with the state.
“Even though this partnership with the MSBA has begun, this is a long journey that will take between five to seven years before any new school renovation or construction is completed,” a newly formed Wildwood School Building Committee noted in an information pamphlet recently posted to the town’s website.
Notably, when being asked for input about a potential consolidation plan last spring, several members of Wilmington’s Select Board emphasized that they had not yet committed to any specific school consolidation model.
“I’m comfortable in saying I do not want one elementary school for all 1,500 students. But at the other end of the spectrum, I am not interested in rehabilitating all six elementary schools,” said former Select Board Chairman Jonathan Eaton during a Town Hall meeting last March.
Predicting the cost of a new school will come in somewhere around $55 million, town officials last March suggested that the MSBA could reimburse the community for as much as 45 percent of a new Wildwood School’s design and construction costs.
Though last spring’s invitation into the state agency’s funding pipeline greatly increases the odds that Wilmington will indeed be offered funding for a new school, the MSBA has not yet agreed to contribute any money towards a new building.