What is Plan B?

Back when I started this blog, I touched a bit on why exactly the space problem at the high school level concerned me. I have two kids, so that’s obvious. But here’s the big issue for me: I’ve been here before.

Back in the late 1970s, I used to hear the school bus for the high schoolers in the early morning hours. I used to watch the high school kids get off the bus from the dinner table. It wasn’t that Bellingham had an exceptionally long school day — far from it. Our high school was on double sessions because of overcrowding, and the teenagers in my neighborhood were either going to school from before dawn until noon or from noon until dinner time.

Bellingham High School at the time held grades 7-12. We were supposed to get a middle school, but that didn’t happen. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it — what kind of education were those high schoolers getting in just half a day… and what were they doing with themselves the rest of the day?

We’ve been talking about a new high school here in Grafton, but I have yet to hear of Plan B — what happens if the high school doesn’t pass? How are we planning to shoehorn all these kids into our schools?

It’s never something that’s really discussed in public, although Joe Connors did mention at the school forum yesterday that some of the “scary stuff” would be discussed at School Committee tomorrow night. I have brought it up with both Connors and Grafton High Principal Jim Pignataro.

The answer is, there is no set answer. Maybe trailers in the parking lot. Maybe double sessions. The fact is, the building isn’t going to be able to hold those students — so where are we going to put them?

Bellingham’s eventual solution, from a student’s standpoint, was not a terrific one. Forced, I believe by court order, to stop the double sessions, they opted to cram the seventh graders into the elementary schools. Let’s just say that an open double classroom (this was the ’70s) that might be suitable for a first grader is ridiculously noisy and small when it comes to a seventh grader.

I don’t see that solution available to Grafton. The high school’s crowded, the middle school is even more crowded, and there’s so little space at South Grafton Elementary School they have to have a kindergarten class attend three days a week so they can offer art to the rest of the school the remaining two days.

I think it’s time to discuss the scary stuff. What is Plan B?


6 thoughts on “What is Plan B?

  1. Pull back on the parts that are non-reembursable (the town pays the whole cost), and avoid the perception of low balling. Be seen as fully recognizing the total likely costs and impacts. Be very carefull about being quoted as saying $1.00 per $1000 then changing it to $1.25. Be seen as honest and creadable about the total cost. Does the “$500,000” quoted to run a sixth building cover all the added costs including all the teachers who will run all the new classrooms we are adding, or maybe that number is more like just heat, light, clerical, custodial, maintenance, etc. type costs? Don’t duck the tough questions about things like the elimination of the PA building and how those spaces and programs will be dealt with, the impacts and costs for that. Final answers may not be available at this point, but perceptions of avoiding recognizing the questions and the full range of the the possible answers and impacts are what will make the difference. Be honest about the prospects and likelyhoods of needing perminent tax overrides to pay the added operational costs that will come with the expanded capacity.

    Is a sizable expenditure for artificial turf really needed and unavoidable even though the state will not reemburse for any of it, or is it more like a good thing it would nice to get while we can?

    People always hear we “have” to spend everything being put forward, but in the end that is never really true.

    The biggest part of the recent election outcome was reaction to perceptions of over-reaching. If this project should fail it will be tapping into that same sensitivity. The election shows people are more aware and perceptive than we often give credit for.

  2. I was thinking about the fields at the meeting yesterday. I would bet there would be more of a stink raised if a school was proposed without athletic fields than if one has the extra cost attached. I heard a lot of rumblings about that site in particular back when it was approved because it does limit how much can be done with athletics.

    The fields, of course, are probably the most available to the general public aspect of the new school — you can’t use the school library as a replacement for the town library (as was brought up in the forum yesterday), but the fields are available for all kinds of youth and adult leagues. And even with the two new town fields (the one behind the bank in South Grafton and the new Riverview Park), there’s still not enough field space if you take the high school fields away.

    Also, I don’t see a lot of new teachers being added — many of the ones we have now are traveling teachers who don’t have their own classrooms.

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