Committee moves forward in considering elementary school's future

Oct 31, 2017

Decision-making and “visioning” is underway for Wareham’s elementary school project, which is working toward identifying the best options for improving or even consolidating the two elementary schools in town.

Minot Forest Elementary School is more than 50 years old and has outdated electrical wiring, a lack of space and windows, floors, ceilings and boilers that need to be replaced.

After voters at April Town Meeting approved the borrowing of $1 million to fund a feasibility study, the School Building Committee has been trying to create a space that is agreeable to students and community members.

The feasibility study will explore different options for revamping the school. The study is a requirement of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which will reimburse the town 70 percent of the project’s construction cost.

The committee chose Mount Vernon Group Architects as the architecture group for the project, in part, because of a desire to “reflect our community needs,” said Business Manager Michael MacMillan at Monday’s School Building Committee meeting.

“Community engagement was the buzzword,” MacMillan said. “We said it a million times...we want to make the school accessible to the community.”

Several members of the Mount Vernon Group, which has designed schools in Massachusetts since 1954, talked about the process going forward.

“Each community is different, especially in Massachusetts,” said Mount Vernon Group President Frank Tedesco. He said the group will listen to the 23-member committee and to residents to create a plan that suits everyone.

Architect Adolfo Cuevas said he is responsible for looking at sites and figuring out the viability of each one as an elementary school. He will evaluate size, location, available utilities, potential flooding issues and possible contamination at each site, and consider whether to renovate the school or build a new one. Then, committee members and residents will decide which options to pursue.

After that, those options will be developed until a consensus emerges. This plan will be taken to the state for its input. The Massachusetts School Building Authority has the final say on the project’s design.

Paying for Wareham’s portion of the project is a decision that would go back to Town Meeting, where voters decide if it will be funded.

Finally, Cuevas said he’ll determine the design, cost and value of the plan to evaluate whether the town can afford it.

“You’ll have every question answered by the end,” Cuevas said.

The education component is the most important in the process, said Senior Interior Designer Susan Taylor. She said her job is to find out what makes Wareham unique, what people want to emphasize in the new school and how they want the school building to feel. This will all start in the next 10 days, she said.

The “visioning process” will allow people to learn about the project and brainstorm what they want to see in the new school, while considering what is most needed. The first visioning meeting is set for November, and meetings following it will be open to the public.

The committee seemed to favor having one building for the elementary school rather than the two buildings that currently exist in John W. Decas Elementary and Minot Forest Elementary.

“There are ways of breaking it up and making smaller learning communities within one building,” Tedesco said.

The plan is to have a preliminary design sent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in January and to narrow ideas down to one option for construction by April 17. The committee hopes to put the project to a vote at the Town Meeting in fall 2018.

Tedesco emphasized the importance of creating a new elementary school that will carry Wareham through the upcoming decades, quoting Winston Churchill: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.”

The next School Building Committee meeting will be held Nov. 20 at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public. For more information, visit “Wareham Elementary School Building Project” on Facebook.