Consultants lead toward mixed-use plan
Members of the Massachusetts Associations of Regional Schools Consulting Group team presented to the Board of Selectmen this week a summary of its 50-page Best Educational Use of School Facilities Study for the Hull Public Schools, outlining four options based on declining enrollments, public concern about excess space, and other considerations. The School Committee also participated in the remote meeting Wednesday night.
While stopping short of making any specific recommendation, the MARS team did indicate a preference for Option 4, which is a mixed-use model.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Option 1: continuing to operate and maintain three separate school facilities.
Option 4 incorporates either Option 2 or 3 (see below), with Memorial Middle School operating as a mixed-use facility and the South Shore Collaborative space remaining.
“This is only the beginning of the conversation,” the board’s chairwoman, Jennifer Constable, said. “There’s certainly a lot to unpack, and depending on which path the town takes, it’s like a house of cards – not in a negative way, but there are multiple school and town facilities to consider [in deciding which direction to take]. We want to do what’s best for the students.”
While putting the study on hold due to pressing pandemic-related issues, the School Committee expects to further discuss the study and next steps at an upcoming meeting (possibly on April 26) and address questions and comments that were posted in the virtual “chat room” by residents during the selectmen’s meeting.
No public comments were accepted at that time because of time constraints; it is expected there will be ample opportunity for parents, teachers, and the entire community to participate in upcoming forums focused on the study.
A plan to create a working group, comprised of Town Manager Philip Lemnios, School Superintendent Judith Kuehn, and one member each from the School Committee and Board of Selectmen acting as liaisons, is in the works to facilitate discussion of the report and set a timeline for a potential decision after the study has been fully vetted in the community.
Lemnios pointed out that “the impetus for this report is HPS enrollment projections of a total of about 600 kids in the HPS system in eight years, which will put all the school buildings well below capacity. If these enrollment expectations hold true, the gap between building capacity and the number of students will continue to grow,” making a case for school building consolidation.
He emphasized that the idea behind a possible mixed use is not to decrease the school budget but rather to “continue to improve education in Hull” and that the “number one consideration in making a decision is the educational impact on students.”
MARS team leader Jay Barry suggested the formation of an ad hoc committee to study the various options and then make a recommendation to school and town officials to inform their final decision.
There was general agreement that doing so would be beneficial. “The report lays out different options and the rationale behind them, and an ad hoc committee would flesh out the process and determine the next steps,” Lemnios said. Such a committee, once established, could also gather input from all the stakeholders, including Hull families.
The town library and senior center are short on space, and Town Hall is cramped and needs major repairs, but at this point no decision regarding those buildings has been made.
Consolidation would present an opportunity to provide better-quality work space for Town Hall employees and for residents to benefit from “one-stop shopping” because most town services would move to Memorial School if Option 4 comes out on top, Lemnios said.
If the mixed-use option is ultimately chosen, school and town officials would work together to determine how best to come up with a solution to meet space and other needs in the school and municipal facilities. A Memorandum of Understanding addressing such a plan would be crafted to guide the future of the Memorial School building.
School Committee member Stephanie Peters believes it is important to consider all the buildings in town, not just the three schools. “We need to make an all-encompassing decision,” she said.
Option 2 considers creating a PreK-eighth grade and grades nine-12 model – with PreK-eighth grade at Jacobs School, grades 9-12 at Hull High School, and the middle school no longer utilized as a school. The current space allotted to the South Shore Educational Collaborative could be reduced or eliminated.
Option 3 considers creating a PreK-grade seven and grades eight-12 model, with PreK-grade seven students located at Jacobs, grades eight-12 at the high school, the middle school no longer used as a school, and Collaborative spaces reduced or eliminated.
The cost of implementing the various options is expected to be made available at a later date.
If other town services were to move to the middle school, the building could potentially remain under the School Department’s control.
If there were to be an unexpected spike in school population after the town went with the mixed-use option, that space “could be recaptured” if necessary, Barry said, and the town services could be relocated and students could reoccupy the building.