BRUNSWICK, Maine — The Brunswick School Board on Wednesday night heard four proposals for addressing an anticipated population bottleneck at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School.
But a solution is unlikely until early 2015.
Three of the four proposals presented by school administrators ranged in price from a little over $215,000 to about $1.2 million. All three of them would involve moving students to different school buildings.
The school’s population is expected to grow in part because of the unexpected June 2011 closure of Jordan Acres Elementary School, which was found to have structural deficiencies.
The closing caused the board to shuffle grades within the town’s two remaining elementary schools, eventually resulting with Harriet Beecher Stowe taking grades 2-5 and Coffin Elementary School taking kindergarten through first grade.
Now, the population at Harriet Beecher Stowe exceeds its recommended 660-pupil capacity, with a population of 681 students and a recent projection showing it will reach nearly 700 by next school year.
The board’s plan to build a new 660-pupil elementary school to replace the aging Coffin facility would help address the town’s long-term population growth.
But Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said the new school won’t be completed for at least five years, which is why he has asked the board to consider a stop-gap solution by the beginning of 2015.
The board didn’t reach a consensus Wednesday night, but agreed that its facilities committee will continue to discuss the proposals.
The $1.2 million solution, presented by Facilities Director Paul Caron, would involve moving second-grade students at Harriet Beecher Stowe to a 10-classroom building that would be constructed next to Coffin.
The building, which Caron said would be less expensive to buy than to lease, would be placed in front of Coffin and replace four of its existing mobile classrooms. It would have its own dining area to prevent younger students from having to walk to the cafeteria on the other side of the campus.
The first $215,000 solution would involve moving fifth-grade students at Harriet Beecher Stowe to Brunswick Junior High School, where they would likely be cloistered away from older students, with some of them in a leased four-classroom complex that would contribute to a majority of the costs.
Junior high school Principal Walter Wallace, who presented the solution, said he and a small team of teachers had visited Cape Elizabeth and Westbrook middle schools last fall to see how their grade 5-8 configurations worked.
What they saw at the two middle schools was mostly promising, Wallace said.
“We met with the kids,” he said, “and the last question I think we had was, ‘do you like it here, or do you like it [at the elementary school]? They’re like, ‘we like it at the middle school a lot better.'”
However, Wallace said, if the school department were ever to transition fifth-grade students to the junior high school, the school would have to involve parents to make them feel comfortable with such a change.
Some board members, including Chairwoman Michele Joyce, said they are hesitant about the idea of moving fifth-grade students in with older students.
“I think it’s a very drastic move for an enrollment problem,” she said.
Board member Rich Ellis said if the board moves forward with this proposal, he wouldn’t want it to be a short-term solution.
“I don’t see it as half measure,” he said. “If we were going to do this, this would be something I would want to do because it’s something we felt was academically good in the long run.”
The second $215,000 proposal would involve reopening the former Hawthorne Elementary School as a “choice” elementary school that would house nearly 150 students in grades K-5. The building is currently used as the school department’s central office.
Perzanoski, who presented the proposal, said the “choice” elementary school would enroll students based on a lottery and would likely be theme-focused. He said this school could allow the school department to be more competitive academically with the rise of charter schools in Maine.
“Whether we like it or not,” he said, “we have to be creative and offer students and parents alternatives.”
Board members said they will remain open to the idea, but are concerned about potential equity issues it could create within the overall student population.
“You can establish equity systematically,” Ellis said, “but there could still be a perception problem.”
The fourth proposal would involve adding one to three teachers at Harriet Beecher Stowe. It didn’t have an assigned price tag, but was presumed to cost the least.
Board member Corinne Perreault said the board should consider adding teachers to Harriet Beecher Stowe regardless of the other solutions, because projected models for next year show classroom sizes nearly reaching their suggested limit.
“Our concern is about grade size,” she said, “and what is best for the students.”