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Modular classrooms a possibility for regional middle school model

Date: 2/5/2015

WILBRAHAM – The Middle School Task Force at its Jan. 29 meeting discussed space requirements and potential changes to the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District’s transportation services in regards to a proposed regional middle school.

“The large question is what’s the short-term feasibility of a single regional middle school and thought was that as early as the fall of 2016 is that this might be feasible,” Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea said. “There’s a lot to consider.”

One possibility to address space requirements if the district moved to a regional middle school model would be modular classroom, he added.

“In 2016-2017, based on our current numbers, we’d be about 33 students above what NESDEC (the New England School Development Council) identifies as the capacity of Wilbraham Middle School (WMS) [for a single regional middle school model] and we’d be about 325 students above what NESDEC identifies as the capacity for TWB (Thornton W. Burgess Middle School),” O’Shea said.

During the 2016-2017 school year, if modular classrooms were utilized by the district, WMS would likely use three or four and TWB would need about 24 modular classrooms, he added.

“They don’t necessarily need to be used for classrooms,” Marc Ducey, chair of the Middle School Task Force and School Committee, said. “They could be used for library space. They could be used for things where kids aren’t in that space all day.” 

Ducey said based on population sizes and enrollment patterns TWB would need the modular classrooms “for the foreseeable future” and WMS would need them for “less than a five year period.”

The capacity of WMS is about 625 students, Noel Pixley, WMS principal and a former principal at TWB, said.

O’Shea said during the 2014-2015 school year the district operates 38 buses on a regular basis contracted through the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative (LPVEC) and each bus costs $257 per day to operate.

“Some of the costs incorporated into that – essentially the number of buses, but also the time on the road and the mileage,” he added. “Those three variables ultimately result in the price of a bus per day.”

However, the geography of Wilbraham and Hampden remains the same, O'Shea said.

“Maybe it used to be, we’d go into a neighborhood and pick up seven kids or five kids,” he added. “We still have the same distances to travel. We still have to pick up the children in neighborhoods regardless of the number that are out there. Transportation is an important cost center for us. It’s something that we have to take a harder look at. Fewer students doesn’t necessarily mean fewer buses because of the geography that we’re dealing with.”

In 2010, the district closed Memorial Elementary School in Wilbraham, which was considered by many as a beloved school, O’Shea said.

“It just didn’t make sense to run so many elementary schools and we felt that we were over capacity and we needed to close a school, but the reason I bring this up is that we needed to, when that happened, change some of our transportation patterns to fit the new grade configurations,” he added.

The LPVEC could run projections about bus route changes if a regional middle school model is approved with a change to the regional agreement by both residents of Wilbraham and Hampden likely during each respective community’s Special Town Meeting this fall, O’Shea said.

Based on bus routing software, the average time for WMS riders is about 30 minutes and for TWB riders it is about 38 minutes, he added.

“What we saw [with the preliminary projections from the software] was that in some cases we could actually reduce, believe it or not, the average route time, but it’s based on adding one or two buses,” he said.

So, when our transportation director coordinator brought this to me, I said, ‘It doesn’t feel like it passes the common sense test to me,’” O’Shea continued. “That’s always important to me. The routing software that they have is very sophisticated and they have really advanced GPS technology that tracks the routes of our existing buses.”

This month the task force would likely gain community input with surveys and presentations, O’Shea said. During the winter and spring, the task force would focus on continuing a feasibility study internally including an overview of transportation and food services, programming and scheduling for a regional middle school.

During the summer, a professional study would likely be completed, which would include the feasibility of modular classrooms, a consideration of the most feasible site, and a schematic design, O’Shea added.

On Feb. 5, the task force is scheduled to meet to discuss long-term feasibility ideas and on Feb. 12 the task force will discuss short-term ideas.