EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 6, 2013

Windham nears decision on middle school

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — The School Board is nearing a decision on whether to pursue a middle school expansion through Town Meeting.

School Board Chairman Mike Joanis said the decision could come as soon as the board’s next meeting in two weeks.

“We are looking at a phased addition,” he said.

But the board hasn’t committed to a project and could choose to wait another year.

“We have not made a final decision yet,” Joanis said.

Project estimates range from about $10 million to $17 million, depending on the scope of the work, he said.

Voters in March rejected a new $31 million middle school. That followed their rejection a year earlier of funding for design fees for a new school.

Officials have since held a series of public forums as they consider how to move forward to address facility needs.

Some in the community have voiced support during the past two years for expansion rather than a new school.

They maintain it would be more affordable and predict it would receive more support at Town Meeting.

The price tag for an addition would vary depending whether improvements would be made to the site and the size of the expansion.

“The funnel is narrowing,” superintendent Winfried Feneberg said.

At one point, school officials were looking at as many as 18 possibilities, he said.

“The board gave the administration some homework to do on the phased addition and getting rough estimates,” Feneberg said.

Among options school officials are reviewing is one that would include a large multipurpose room for lunch, assemblies and small theater productions.

Site work would aim to improve traffic flow and safety.

“We are looking for a solution where buses and parents don’t get in each other’s way,” Feneberg said.

Board member Dennis Senibaldi said he’s in favor of including a multipurpose room in the expansion, but wants to know more about the costs of staffing the expansion.

“They need to build a three-story addition with a multipurpose room and with site work,” Senibaldi said.

Though no more forums are planned, Joanis said the board still welcomes comments from residents about what action they would like to see.

Feneberg said he’s unaware of whether the Windham PTA has taken a position. Nothing was posted on the PTA’s website.

“I hope more people come forward to continue the dialogue with the board and district,” Feneberg said.

If the board pursues expansion of the middle school, residents will have a say at the school deliberative session in February and through the Town Meeting vote on March 11.

“My assumption is they will put an addition for the middle school on the ballot,” said Ken Eyring of the Windham Taxpayers Coalition. “But I don’t speak for the School Board and that is their decision.”

Four members of the taxpayers coalition have been closely following the issue as it prepares a position that could include facility suggestions from the group.

“I expect we’ll have a position within a few weeks,” Eyring said.

Feneberg said it’s premature to say when an addition might open, should officials pursue one and voters approve.

He said an addition probably would open in time for the 2015-2016 school year.

But he also said there are a lot of factors involved, because such a project would take place while students are in session at the school.