School officials urge support for office space at Paul Revere Heritage Site

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All three key issues discussed at Thursday night’s Canton School Committee meeting — full-day kindergarten, administrative office space, and before-school staffing at the Kennedy School — had one common denominator: the need for more building space.

rodman1School Committee Chairman Bob Golledge told the 35 parents who attended the October 15 meeting as well as those watching on local cable access who might have been one of the 314 people to sign a petition for tuition-free, full-day kindergarten that the School Committee needs their continued support as they push for central office space at the new Paul Revere Heritage Site on Revere Street.

Established through successful negotiations with the owner of the Plymouth Rubber property, the new site, when completed, will feature a fully renovated Paul Revere copper rolling mill and barn as well as nine acres of town-owned parkland. The Board of Selectmen will determine the final uses of the two structures after soliciting input from the newly formed Paul Revere Heritage Commission and the Revere Building Use Committee.

However, as detailed in the Canton Citizen last week, there is a growing divide among members of the building use committee over what constitutes the “highest and best” use for the two Revere buildings. Whereas some members appear to favor building a historical and cultural museum, school officials have zeroed in on the mill as a possible future home of the school system’s administrative offices.

School Committee member John Bonnanzio, who serves on both the building use and school building study committees, also made this pitch at the May town meeting, noting that the move would free up much-needed classroom space at the Rodman building. And while nothing was guaranteed at the time, he said the consensus among town officials was that the space at the rolling mill was a good fit for the school department.

But with the idea for a museum starting to gain traction, Bonnanzio told the School Committee last week that “inertia may be against the schools” for their space request.

Bonnanzio said there is a growing sentiment among the building use committee that the schools should look elsewhere for office space, although he has studied one of the recommended alternatives — the former Ponkapoag School on Route 138 — and determined it to be wholly inadequate for the school department’s needs.

Bonnanzio said in his opinion, there will be sufficient room at the Paul Revere Heritage Site for both the school offices and a museum depicting the life and times of Paul Revere and other historical information and artifacts.

Golledge said he hopes to invite members of the Revere building use committee to the November 5 School Committee meeting so that everyone can better understand the issues at hand. He also hopes to make the school department’s case before selectmen in the near future.

Golledge said the school space issue is so acute that a need for a new elementary school, at an estimated cost of $35 to $45 million, could be brought before the taxpayers sooner rather than later if the town does not find adequate space for the administrative offices.

Regarding the call for tuition-free full-day kindergarten, committee members were pleased with the comprehensive report on the issue presented by parent Steve MacPherson. While not making any guarantees, Golledge said the committee has directed School Business Manager Barry Nectow to begin exploring the financial implications of such a move as he prepares the budget for the next fiscal year.

Nectow told committee members that he wants the school budget finished a month earlier than usual so the committee is ready for the spring town meeting.

The plan to get a head start on the school budget pleased Finance Committee member Nicole Gallagher, who voiced support for the full-day kindergarten plan but said “it is not a guarantee.”

“I would say, though, anything early so we can study it is a plus,” she said. “The earlier the better.”

McPherson’s report detailed all of the educational benefits of full-day kindergarten and concluded that Canton is “well behind the times” compared to the rest of the communities in the state. Canton’s fee of $3,500 is also among the highest in the state.

The other issue discussed at the end of the meeting concerned the lack of space at the Kennedy School for before and after-school care. Currently, the Luce School offers before and after-school care through the Champions program, which leases space at the school. However, Interim School Superintendent Jen Henderson told disappointed JFK parents that there is no space to accommodate a similar program at the Kennedy …

See this week’s Canton Citizen for more highlights from the October 15 School Committee meeting. Not a subscriber? Click here to order your subscription today ($25 for one year through October 31).

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