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November 2, 2015 / stacieshap

Hillside School, Owens Farm and Town Meeting

owensfarmTonight (11/2/2015), Town Meeting will be voting to approve funds to acquire the (current) Owens Poultry Farm property, as a new site for the Hillside School. The siting issue for Hillside has been a challenging one for the town. There have been several options on the table but each has its drawbacks; environmental, traffic, redistricting etc.

In May Douglas Owens, third generation owner of Owen’s Poultry Farm, offered to sell his lot to the Town in hopes of resolving the challenges the town has had finding a new site/option.
Siting the school on the current chicken farm offers many advantages, compared to the others:
  1. Minimizes the need for redistricting children to other schools
  2. No environmental mitigation needed
  3. Least expensive of the options
  4. Surprise, windfall opportunity to expand the town’s severely limited property options, leaving other sites available for other purposes
  5. Beautiful site with deep history in our town
Of course, there is no perfect spot! But compared with the other sites’ significant disadvantages, Owen’s Farm site is preferable.
Further information / FAQs on the Owen’s Farm and Hillside School can be found here:
  1. The Superintendant’s Blog
  2. FAQs (pdf)
  3. Comprehensive resources linked from Hillside Elementary School Planning page

I also wanted to address a few claims that are being circulated in town via email and letters to Town Meeting members. While there is certainly room for people to disagree with Owens Farm as the best solution, there are many factually incorrect assertions making the rounds. The following assertions have been taken from an email that was forwarded to me, in opposition to Hillside.

  1. CLAIM / CONCERN: “The “total construction cost” to relocate Hillside School to the Owens/Central Avenue site DOES NOT INCLUDE the cost to purchase this land.”

    ACTUALLY: Correct, however all other options have additional costs not included in  the construction cost and not reimbursable by MSBA.  Hillside would be at least $20M MORE for temp space and site clean up, Defazio would include loss and relocation of athletic fields and moving the DPW.

  2. CLAIM / CONCERN: “The Central Avenue land has not been evaluated for any soil, environmental, etc. problems.”
    ACTUALLY:  This is false.  The architects and consultants have evaluated the soil/environmental and are satsified there are no issues or that any issue can be dealt with.

  3. CLAIM / CONCERN: “The proposed school will not be “large enough” for the projected student population. (Why are we building a school that upon completion will not be large enough?)”

    ACTUALLY:  MSBA has set a limit on how large the building can be — and this is it. It has been planned for the lowest end of the School Committee’s policy on class size, meaning there is plenty of room for additional enrollment.

  4. CLAIM / CONCERN: “Due to the wetlands at the Owens/Central Avenue site the school will not be able to be expanded should this be needed at a future date.”

    ACTUALLY: We do not foresee the need to expand the building’s footprint in the future, although it may indeed be possible.

  5. CLAIM / CONCERN: “Due to the location students may not be able to ride their bikes to school.”

    ACTUALLY: False, students will still be able to ride bikes to school and cross Central with a crossing guard similar to Eliot and Newman (also off of Central).

  6. CLAIM / CONCERN: “Our elected officials admitted that they “may have to do another traffic study” (Please explain to me why the School Committee can confidently say that traffic will not be an issue at this site?)”
    ACTUALLY: The traffic study was done by a highly reputable firm according to all their national industry standards and regulations. Traffic is an issue at all sites. Once we move into the next phase, we will do additional studies, but all preliminary work indicates that there are no unsolvable or sub-standard issues, the site lines are well within standards etc.

  7. CLAIM / CONCERN: “Our elected officials also said that there will be a small space for playing fields using “mostly blacktop”.”

    ACTUALLY: False. There is space for hardscape activities such as four square and basketball.  There is ample space for softscape activities. Yes, there will not be a regulation size field–which is not needed, and not all elementary schools have one. The school and district believe there is the necessary outdoor space for K, 2-5, PE, and recess.

  8. CLAIM / CONCERN: “I believe it’s more cost-effective to fix up and rebuild at the current Hillside School site. Why was this option taken off the table so quickly by the School Committee when the Owens property became an option.”

    ACTUALLY: THERE IS NOT A MORE COST EFFECTIVE OPTION. To even site the school at Hillside, the Town would need to purchase three lots of land adjacent to the school site in order to make it fit with adequate parking. As one of the abutters refuses to sell, this is a deal breaker.  Another additional cost is temporary swing space, around $20 million. That is not reimbursable, and there’s no guarantee it will be used for any future building projects.  The clean up of the site is also only reimbursed by MSBA up to a certain point, siting at existing Hillside will go over that amount, and we would spend our own money on it.  Just 3 examples of how this site is actually the LEAST cost efficient.



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