School officials approve landmark reorganization plan

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See this week’s print edition of the Canton Citizen for the full version of this story.

In a historic vote taken at the September 7 School Committee meeting, committee members unanimously endorsed a grade reorganization and school facilities master plan that could potentially affect every building in the Canton public school system.

rodman1The changes will not happen overnight, but the committee set forth an initial seven-year plan that will cost the town an estimated $214 million, albeit with a chance of recovering nearly 40 percent of that figure from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

All of this would eventually require the approval of town meeting voters — and likely the blessing of the Finance Committee, Board of Selectmen, and Capital Planning Committee.

Identified as “option 5B.1” by consulting firm Dore & Whittier — authors of the school facilities master plan — the reorganization proposal breaks down as follows: pre-kindergarten through grade 4 students at each of the elementary schools; grades 5-7 at the Galvin Middle School; grade 8 students at a newly renovated Rodman building; and grades 9-12 at CHS. Additionally, the central administrative offices would move out of the Rodman and into the Galvin.

The landmark 5-0 vote comes after a year of study by Dore & Whittier (D&W), a private architecture and project management firm hired by the schools to conduct an assessment of all CPS facilities. Representatives from D&W met with Canton school officials throughout the year and held two public information sessions — one in April and another in June. Subcommittees also visited other school systems that D&W recommended as model facilities for 21st century learning.

John Richardson, who led the D&W study effort in Canton, outlined some conclusions about CPS facilities during the September 7 meeting before offering his recommendation of option 5B.1.

Richardson said Canton school buildings are well maintained but aging and all will need to be renovated over the next 25 to 30 years. He noted that Canton school enrollment will show modest growth over the next 10 to 15 years. Given the existing facilities, he said the educational vision is “misaligned in today’s world.”

D&W began by examining 11 reconfiguration options and later narrowed it to four before ultimately choosing 5B.1. It was also the preferred option of Canton parents based on an informal poll of audience members at the most recent information session in June.

In reviewing the proposed construction timeline, Richardson said the first step would be to initiate the placement of modular classrooms at the elementary schools over the next two years. The next step would be a temporary relocation of administrative offices so that work could begin on the Rodman building. Construction would start in the spring of 2018 and take approximately two to three years to complete.

In the winter of 2018 or earlier, Canton would apply to the MSBA for renovation funds for the Galvin, Richardson said.

It is anticipated that the eighth grade would be moved to the Rodman in 2021, with fifth graders also moving to the Galvin and pre-kindergarteners heading to the elementary schools.

Further renovations to the JFK and Galvin would be completed in 2023-24 followed by renovations to the Hansen, Luce and CHS in subsequent years, depending on available funding.

School Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller expressed excitement over the prospect of moving the eighth grade students to a separate “academy” at the Rodman, noting that 13- to 14-year-old students are at a critical developmental stage in their lives. Fischer-Mueller said eighth graders would have their own principal and schedule but share some of the facilities at CHS.

Reacting to the D&W report, veteran School Committee member Reuki Schutt said it represents “education of the future.” “This is what Canton needs,” she said.

“We will need a ton of help from the town and the voters,” noted School Committee Chairman Mike Loughran, who, in a recent interview with the Citizen, likened the effort to the public push for free full-day kindergarten and the coalition-building that took place in the run-up to the 2016 town meeting.

The next immediate step for the committee is to begin a study to determine how many modular classrooms will be needed at the elementary schools. “We have to look at what makes sense, the quality of the modular classrooms, and where the modular classrooms will go,” said Loughran.

Loughran said the reason the committee approved the master plan on September 7 — three weeks sooner than originally anticipated — is that most, if not all of the committee members have been involved with the D&W study for an entire year and were recently given a preview of the report at a two-day School Committee workshop.

“We knew we were going in this direction,” said Loughran. “Dore & Whittier did a fantastic job and we wanted to get going and explain this to our CAPTs and various committees.”

Details of the 5B.1 plan will soon be posted on the Canton Public Schools website …

See this week’s Canton Citizen to read more highlights from the September 7 School Committee meeting. Not a subscriber? Click here to order your subscription today (also available in digital form). Special 30th Anniversary Promotion: $20 for 1 year for new in-town subscribers.

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