Brunswick to consider adjusting grade levels in school buildings, giving parents school choice

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BRUNSWICK — Re-opening Hawthorne School, turning the former Times Record building into a bus garage and renovating Jordan Acres Elementary School are among the options to be discussed at a special Jan. 25 School Board meeting on the town’s school facilities needs.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski may also float a plan to give parents a choice of which elementary school their children attend.

School Board members and administrators met Jan. 9 with a representative from Harriman Associates, the architectural firm hired to study Brunswick’s school buildings. The group discussed ideas for addressing an increasing elementary school enrollment and deteriorating school buildings.

School Board member Rich Ellis, who sits on the Facilities and Maintenance Committee, outlined a number of options the committee is considering at the Jan. 11 board meeting, including keeping the current configuration of grades K-2 at Coffin Elementary School and 3-5 at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School.

Other options include:

• Using Coffin and Jordan Acres for grades K-2, and HBS for grades 3-5.

• Using Jordan Acres for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students (assuming a pre-K program is created), Coffin for first and second grades, and HBS for grades 3-5.

• Dividing the town’s elementary enrollment between Coffin for grades K-2, HBS for grades 3-5, and re-opening Hawthorne School for the remainder of grades 1-5.

A future solution may also include moving the bus garage, currently located behind Coffin, to the former Times Record building on 6 Industry Road.

The move would put the vacant town-owned property back to use and would free up space around Coffin for a possible future expansion of the school, if the board decided to take that route.

The committee also discussed what to do with Jordan Acres. The elementary school was taken off-line in June 2011 and has been “mothballed” until further notice. Perzanoski said the architects believe the open-concept design of the school would make it difficult and expensive to renovate.

“It’s going to be fairly extensive, whatever we do down there,” he said, “but it’s not without hope.”

Although Coffin and HBS are presently nearing capacity and classroom sizes increased over last year, Perzanoski said the two schools could accommodate another 150 students before he would need to open another school. If that happened, he said Hawthorne School could quickly be converted back into classrooms.

That raises the question of what would happen with town and school administrative offices and programming that currently utilizes that space, Ellis said.

Another possible solution to the enrollment question could be to offer parents school choice at the elementary level,  something Perzanoski said “takes away some of the perception of over-crowding at both of the schools.”

He has worked in other districts where parents had the option to choose their child’s school, and said it can work well.

“The community’s looking for different and creative ways … to be able to have public education delivered,” he said. “I think it’s our job to be able to provide some alternatives for the board to consider.”

Perzanoski hopes to float an outline of the school choice plan to the school board in the near future. The board will hold a workshop on school facilities on Jan. 25 at 6 p.m.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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