School board skeptical of $21M plan for Staples’ addition
“I’m just afraid it’s about two steps further than where we are right now,” member Karen Kleine said Monday night, echoing the concern of others that neither enrollment projections nor program aspirations currently appear to warrant the proposal.
Joseph Fuller, principal of Fuller and D’Angelo, P.C., which designed the high school’s 2005 addition, on Monday made a presentation to the board on a proposal to build a 36,000-square-foot, two-story addition at the southeast side of the existing structure. The addition would house additional classrooms, workrooms and a two-story technology center with a wealth of cutting-edge features.
“Staples is running at 118 percent of its original anticipated design … It’s high tide and there’s a wave coming, so I think it’s best to be prepared,” he said, noting the existing school is designed for 1,800 students.
Last week as the new academic year got underway, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon reported that Staples’ enrollment is nearly 1,900 students, while school board Chairman Michael Gordon had said the school’s enrollment “has been over capacity for the past few years and projections have it continuing to grow.”
“In my mind I think the first … question that needs to be bulletproof is the demographics,” Gordon said Monday night. “We need to know to a certainty that our numbers are growing.”
“I was a little surprised when we got this full-blown plan,” said member Brett Aronow, who expected a $20,000 feasibility study to merely be an examination of space utilization.
“If there’s an educational need for this space, I haven’t seen (it) presented to us … What classes are we talking about? Have we piloted them? Is it possible to start teaching the class without (this) particular space?”
“It’s a huge dollar sign and the question is, as a Board of Education, is this where we want to spend our money?” she said.
“It would just be an incredible addition to have to Staples High School,” said member Mark Mathias, “(but) I was not expecting this … I was looking for kind of a gap analysis.”
Mathias noted “a number of elementary schools that are in need of reworking … I really like this, but I think there are other needs that we have in the community that I think we had better address.”
“A project of this magnitude will be very difficult to support with only four years of forward projected enrollment or demographics,” said member Paul Block.
While the study is based on the projected enrollment at Staples of approximately 1,900 students over the next several years, he said it could just be a spike, as lower enrollment enrollment is being reported at the town’s elementary schools. “Staples could be at 1,800 students by 2023 … What I’m concerned about is that we’re not taking any short-term action.”
“I totally agree that we need to get back into the fundamentals and look at enrollment,” he said.
Landon, who introduced several Staples department heads in attendance, said the space was required for necessary program work in world language, social studies, science and other disciplines.
“Enrollment is a key issue here, but programmatic (needs) are equally important,” he said. “I think there’s a combination factor.”
“It was all about space,” Block said. “That was the initial scope. Now we’re saying the scope has changed. It’s no longer about space.”
Steve Halstead, a former school board chairman, spoke in favor of the project. “You need a facility that enables the delivery of the program that you as the Board of Ed in the community want and demand,” he said.
Sue Calger, the only other member of the public to speak on the Staples proposal, shared other thoughts.
“This kind of went from zero to 60 like that,” she said. “You ask for a feasibility study on space and you get a new building.”
“This is beautiful, (but) I think there needs to be some more evaluation of the space, creative use of the space … It just seems so quick to push something like this through that costs that much money,” she said.
“This is an educational issue,” Landon said, noting that board simply has to decide whether or not it wants to have the proposed facilities.
Gordon said the administration and board would regroup to review enrollment projections and demographics, current space utilization and the vision for future programming at the high school.