Sandwich Task Force Recommends Closing Henry T. Wing School
By: Mary Stanley
The task force charged with exploring what to do for the Henry T. Wing School, which is in need of much renovation, is leaning toward shuttering the old school and changing the school district’s current K-8 system over to a K-6 model. This would involve moving the town’s 7th and 8th graders to Sandwich High School.
Last year, the school committee hired consultant Philip J. Poinelli of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates to conduct an in-depth study of all of the school buildings after a general assessment of the Wing School revealed that it would cost $30 million just to bring the school up to code and $50 million to accommodate today’s teaching needs. This study analyzed various data, including projected student enrollment numbers.
With the school district’s enrollment numbers down over the past 10 years and expected to decline further over the next 10, the committee concluded that keeping all three of the town’s K-8 schools open along with an underutilized high school may not be the most efficient use of the buildings.
Tuesday afternoon, the task force voted unanimously to make a presentation to the school committee and selectmen on the five options that Mr. Poinelli had proposed with a “strong recommendation” to choose option five, which calls for closing the Henry T. Wing School.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Superintendent of Schools C. Richard Canfield was quick to point out that this vote does not mean that the closing the Wing School is a “done deal” and said that all five of the options still need to be thoroughly vetted and discussed by the school committee and selectmen.
“This is not a decision that will be made in isolation,” he said.
Of the five options that Mr. Poinelli presented to the task force, closing the Wing School and changing the two remaining elementary schools to K-6 schools was by far the most cost-effective. This option is expected to cost $16 million to $20 million compared to $30 to $35 million for the other option. Other options included renovating the Wing School, replacing it altogether, and closing it down and building additions onto the Forestdale and Oak Ridge schools to accommodate the current K-8 population.
Dr. Canfield said of all of the options presented, this was the only one that made the best use of the high school. With a capacity to hold 1,400 students and a current enrollment of 996 students, the building is underutilized.
A high school that includes middle school grade levels is not a new concept.
“Look at our neighbors in communities like Mashpee and Barnstable. High schools are no longer grades 9 through 12 schools,” said Ellin Booras, Sandwich High School principal.
“There’s something to be said for a K-8 system but at the same time the kids don’t seem to mature as quickly. I think they would become more independent at a younger age in a 7 through 12 school,” said Forestdale School Principal Ruth Joseph.
In as much as the 7th and 8th graders will be relocated to the high school, the plan calls for keeping those students separate from older students, with all of their classrooms in the school’s A Wing, which has its own separate entrance.
Dr. Canfield said if the district does proceed with this option, there would be a staggered class schedule at the high school, with students in the middle school grades changing classes and passing in the hallways at different times than the high school students.
“The 7th and 8th graders would have a seven- or eight-period day, so their passing times would be different,” Dr. Canfield said.
This option would require renovating all three levels of the high school’s A Wing to accommodate the middle school students, making renovations to the Forestdale and Oak Ridge schools as well as making upgrades to the high school’s current science laboratories.
“As we seek funding support from the state’s School Building Authority for the A Wing renovations, it makes sense to include upgrades to the high school’s science laboratories as part of the project,” Dr. Canfield said.
The superintendent said providing updated science laboratories for the middle school students will allow the district to include lessons on robotics in its curriculum and to expand on the science lessons taught in these lower grade levels. As these younger students advance to the high school level, he said they will be prepared to tackle more rigorous science courses, including engineering.
“There are some real enhancements for students. We will have upgraded science labs, where all students will benefit,” Dr. Canfield said.
“[The plan for moving the 7th and8th graders into the high school] is a bonus for the high school students,” said John J. Juros, chairman of the capital improvements planning committee and a member of the school task force.
Though this option will require minor renovations to the Oak Ridge and Forestdale schools to accommodate the K-6 population, those renovations will not occur at the same time as the upgrades to the high school.
Dr. Canfield said it would take at least three years before the high school renovation project is even started. And even after that work is completed and the 7th and 8th graders are moved to the high school, he said the Wing School would have to remain open as a K-6 school until the renovations at the Oak Ridge and Forestdale schools are completed.
But there are still many issues that need to be tackled before a final decision can be made. Those issues include the relocation of the school department’s administrative offices as well as the Sandwich Community School, since both departments will be displaced if the 7th and 8th graders move into the high school.
“We have not even discussed where the administrative offices might relocate,” said Dr. Canfield.
And though the intent is to keep the middle school students separate from the high school students, there are certain common areas they will have to share, including the library, cafeteria, and gymnasium.
Dr. Canfield said the logistics of offering physical education classes to six grade levels with only one gymnasium still need to be worked out.
The school committee will also be required to present its full plan to the board of selectmen and that plan will have to include suggestions or ideas for future use of the Wing School.
“We can’t just turn over the keys to the board of selectmen without any options of what to do with this building,” Assistant Town Manager Doug A. Lapp said.
Voters will have the final say on this plan since the cost to renovate the high school and two elementary schools will need approval from voters at Town Meeting and at the ballot.
The task force committee is expected to make a presentation on the five options to the full school committee at a meeting in March.
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.