Saxe Middle School Building Project: FAQsProject Overview and Frequently Asked Questions
Saxe Building Committee 7/6/2015Saxe Middle School was last renovated in 1999 to accommodate 1200 students in grades 5-8. Enrollment increases and program changes at Saxe have created a need for additional additions and renovations. Enrollment was 1296 students at the end of 2014-2015. It is projected to be about 1344 in 2015-2016 and to rise gradually to a peak of 1409 in 2020-2021. Since September of 2014, the Saxe Building Committee has been working to assess the classroom needs at Saxe. Feasibility study work has been completed. In May 2015 the Saxe Building Committee recommended a project to meet the 3 identified needs: fully renovating the auditorium (which was excluded from the 1999 project), right-sizing the music/visual & performing arts (VPA) teaching spaces and building a 12 classroom wing in the northwest corner of Saxe to meet academic classroom needs. This project substantially meets the predicted enrollment and program needs at Saxe and allows the school some flexibility to deliver the best 21st century education to its students. The project was endorsed unanimously by the Board of Education in May 2015. Updates to the Board of Finance and the Town Council on the needs and recommended project were given in April, May and June. The project is projected to cost approximately $17 million and is eligible for about $1 million in state reimbursement funding.Following are some of the questions that have been asked about the proposed project. More information about the project, including presentations to the Town Bodies can be found on the Saxe Middle School Building Project page.
Q. Why build 12 new academic classrooms at Saxe?
A. A 12-classroom addition meets most of the needs for academic classrooms at Saxe. Saxe was built for 1200 students, and next year we anticipate enrollment will be approximately 1344. Since Saxe is based on a team model, every 80 to 100 students require 4 new core academic classrooms. In addition 4 program changes since 1999 have required a dedicated classroom: the Reading Lab, the Learning Center, STEM and Mandarin. Two separate architects who specialize in school construction and analysis have verified the need for a 12 academic classroom expansion.
Q. Why build classrooms now? Why not wait to see how enrollment changes?
A. The students who will be attending Saxe through 2020 are already in the elementary schools, which makes the Saxe enrollment predications highly reliable. These projections, which have been verified by two independent demographers, indicate that Saxe will continue to grow every year, with an additional 45+ students arriving next year alone. These enrollment pressures have forced the Saxe administration to make difficult decisions, such as eliminating computer labs to create core academic classrooms and educating students in numerous undersized classrooms and spaces. With additional students on the way, now is the time to create additional classroom space to help ensure Saxe remains a premiere middle school.
Additionally, construction costs and interest rates will be higher in future years, which makes it much smarter financially to do it now. Construction costs are projected to escalate about 4% per year.
Q. Will the addition at Saxe require additional teaching staff?
A. Student enrollment, not available classrooms, determines the number of teachers hired. This addition will not create a need for additional teaching staff; it just provides the space needed to teach most effectively.
Q. Can we move the 8th grade to the High School?
A. While the high school has the capacity to meet its projected 9th through12th grade enrollment, it does not have the capacity to absorb the 8th grade given the nature of the middle school homeroom and teaming structure. Moving the 8th grade would require at least 18 classrooms, which are not available.
Q. Why not put 5th grade in with the Elementary Schools?
A. In the past, the 5th grade was moved to Saxe due to enrollment increases. Since then, we have seen that having a 5th – 8th grade middle school provides many advantages to the students and the community. For example, at Saxe the 5th grade has access to a larger library, STEM, art, music, and other rooms and resources. Additionally, the 5th grade structure provides a transitional experience for students by creating smaller, 2-teacher teams for students. Since they are coming from a self-contained elementary school environment, 5th grade is the first time students are asked to travel to their classes, which helps prepare them for what’s ahead. Furthermore, moving the 5th grade out of Saxe would restrict or eliminate the option for them to be involved in the co-curricular options available at Saxe, such as the drama productions, clubs, and other activities, and would create a need for additional staffing, since the students would be in three separate locations and the economies of scale would be lost.
Additionally, in their current structure, the elementary schools do not have room for another grade level. We anticipate that they can absorb the current enrollment projections, but there is not enough capacity for an additional grade at any of the three schools. Therefore, each elementary school would have to be expanded, which would require 3 independent construction projects, which would take longer, be more expensive, and be difficult to fit on the current elementary school campuses. In addition, the long-term staffing requirements of moving the 5th grade back to the elementary schools would be higher than the Saxe solution, and the daily schedule would not be ideal given that 6 grades of students would have to be scheduled for specials (PE, art, music), lunch, recess, etc.
Q. Are Saxe’s library, gymnasium, and cafeteria adequately sized for the anticipated enrollment increase?
A. Yes. The library can handle the current and projected enrollment. The recommended project also enhances the library services as it returns the two computer classrooms adjacent to the library to their intended purpose. Saxe has two gymnasiums, which provide 4 high-ceiling teaching spaces. These 4 teaching spaces are sufficient to schedule gym classes for the current and projected enrollment. The Saxe cafeteria has enough seating for current and projected enrollment. Improvements in equipment and service were made this past year. The administration will continue to work on changes and procedures in the servery to provide timely food service to all students.
Q. Some people have said that 7 classrooms are all that is needed.
A. While the 7-classroom addition is an improvement, it does not address the anticipated enrollment increases and programmatic needs at Saxe. Since 1999, twenty-seven (27) classes have been relocated to smaller, less-effective rooms due to space pressures at Saxe. These decisions, which have been necessary, have put academic classes into undersized rooms, and special education classes into teacher workrooms, offices, storage areas, and hallway alcoves. The 12-classroom addition addresses the anticipated enrollment increase and substantially “right sizes” all these other instructional spaces. Reducing the addition to 7-classrooms adds space, but does not address significant identified needs; it leaves in place difficult compromises that have been made through the years due to past enrollment increases and program needs.
Q. Is the 12-classroom addition is too expensive?
A. Due to today’s low interest rates and the Town’s excellent credit rating, the annual debt service (including principal and interest) for the project with a 12-classroom addition would be approximately $1.1 million. This comes to about $140 per tax paying unit per year (based on 8,000 units). This estimate does not count any actual debt retirement. The 7-classroom addition would only be $30 less per year per tax paying unit, or $110. Building 7 classrooms now saves about $3.3 million in construction costs but eliminates the option to build the additional 5 classrooms at a reasonable cost later as it is not economically practical to add a second story.
Q. What does the project do for the visual, music and performing arts classroom, practice and instrument storage overcrowding?
A. The recommended plan provides appropriate classroom sizes for the Choral, Band and Orchestra classes. In addition, it provides stage storage, practice areas and instrument storage, which will allow more frequent and effective use of the newly renovated auditorium by classes in all disciplines.
Q. What is the project schedule?
A. The goal is to have the renovations completed by the fall of 2017. The proposed schedule in brief is:
• August 2014: Formed Building Committee
• October 2014: Began feasibility study on auditorium & music/VPA space needs
• February 2015: Began feasibility study on academic classroom needs
• May 2015: Approved town funding for preconstruction funds ($750,000)
• June 2015: File EDO 49 to start State Reimbursement Process
• July - Sept 2015: Develop detailed design documents
• Sept/Oct 2015: Approve town funding for completed design
• Oct 2015: File EDO 42, receive
• January 2016: Bidding on project
• June 2016: Start construction
• Sept 2017: Complete construction
Q. How would a 12 classroom addition in the northwest part
of Saxe look?
A. It would fit in well and essentially finish the new face of Saxe on South Avenue.
Rendering of the proposed 2 story, 12 classroom addition.