FAQs

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) will be updated from time to time as the projects progress through the phases. Please see our Contact the SBC page if you would like to ask a question that is not addressed here. 

Overall Projects FAQ: Here you will find general questions and answers about the HHU projects. 

 

Hunnewell Elementary School Project: (Coming Soon) Specific Q&A related to the Hunnewell School project feasibility study, budget, schedule, and the Swing Space options and recommendation. 

 

Hardy / Upham Elementary School Project: (Coming Soon) Specific Q&A related to the Hardy/Upham schools feasibility study, budget, schedule, and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) process. 

Overall Projects FAQ

What is the "HHU" project?


HHU stands for the Hardy, Hunnewell, and Upham facilities project, a Town initiative to address and resolve the many physical and educational deficiencies of these three elementary schools. Since the late 1990s, the Town has been steadily rebuilding or renovating all of its school buildings. The HHU schools are the last to be addressed and have proven to be the most challenging. Through various committees and with the help of architectural and engineering consultants, the Town has been working to develop a resolution since a School Conditions Assessment was completed in 2012. In Fall of 2021, Town Meeting and voters will have the opportunity to approve the plans for this project and allow construction to begin.




Why does the School Committee support rebuilding two of the HHU schools and not three?


The number of WPS elementary schools has always expanded or contracted based on student enrollment. In the past, the district has had as many as 12 elementary schools (during the Baby Boom) and as few as six. The district has had seven schools since Sprague reopened in 2002.

Elementary enrollment has declined by more than 500 students since the district’s recent peak of 2,481 students in 2008-09, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of elementary classes. As these numbers have declined, in some cases the district has experienced single-section grade levels.

Given this long-term decline, the School Committee agreed with the recommendation of the HHU Master Plan Committee that the Town rebuild two of the schools now, and take steps to rebuild a third school if, and when, K-5 enrollment rises again and trends past 2,350 students and/or the current configuration limits educational needs.

There is also an opportunity to ensure the new schools are appropriately sized and meet modern standards. The designs for the new schools have 18 dedicated classroom spaces and additional spaces that could be repurposed as a 19th classroom to accommodate enrollment bubbles. This would provide three classrooms per grade, with one additional classroom available for overflow. In the 1990s, when planning was done for the Sprague and Bates projects, the School Committee, school administration, and ultimately the Town supported three classrooms per grade as a minimum size. Since then, Fiske and Schofield have also been renovated and expanded to 18 classrooms each.




What was the HHU Master Plan Committee?


The HHU Master Plan Committee (MPC) was an appointed committee that included representatives from School Committee, the Board of Selectmen, and the Planning Board; the Superintendent; the Assistant Executive Director of General Government Services; one resident member from each of the elementary school attendance zones; and five at-large resident members. The committee was co-chaired by a resident of the Hardy attendance zone and a resident of the Upham attendance zone. From April 2016 to March 2017, the MPC met weekly on average, conducted public forums, and considered many aspects of the HHU project. The work of the MPC was summarized in its final report, published on March 16, 2017.

The near-unanimous recommendation to build two, 19-classroom schools was the result of a significant portion of the committee’s work. It was based on in-depth analysis of the Town’s declining K-5 enrollment trends and projections. Two independent enrollment studies by external consultants, as well as the District’s own internal projections, confirmed that K-5 enrollment is expected to continue its ten-year decline for the foreseeable future. Until enrollment trends significantly upward again, the capacity provided by six 18- and 19-classroom schools will be more than sufficient. It’s important to note that the School Committee will be retaining the land of the third school site should enrollment needs in the future require the rebuilding of an additional school.




Which two schools will be rebuilt, and which school will close?


The Town is undertaking two separate projects. One is to rebuild the Hunnewell School in a project to be funded entirely by the Town’s taxpayers. Since the Town began studying this issue in 2012, all parties have recommended that Hunnewell be rebuilt on the same site given that it is the only elementary school in the southwest side of town. (See the current district map.)

For the second project, the Town is partnering with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to build another school with similar features and square footage to the new Hunnewell school. The Town would be reimbursed with state funds for up to 35 percent of eligible costs.

The School Building Committee studied the Hardy and Upham sites in detail, and in September 2020 recommended that the new school be built at the Hardy site. Upon completion of both the Hunnewell and Hardy School buildings, town-wide redistricting would occur and the Upham School would close.




Why is a minimum of three classrooms per grade the School Committee and administration’s standard?


It is the view of the school administration that a minimum of three classrooms per grade is highly desirable educationally because it provides greater opportunity for teacher collaboration as well as flexibility for placing students. All seven elementary principals spoke in detail about school size (among other topics) at the HHU Master Plan Committee meeting of January 26, 2017. The principals described three classrooms per grade or 350-425 students to be the minimum appropriate size.

A key part of the work of the MPC was considering these issues, discussing school size in detail, and recommending that the town build two, 19-classroom K-5 elementary schools. The School Committee voted to adopt this position, which also is wholly consistent with the decisions of the School Committee and the school administration in the 1990s when planning was underway for rebuilding Sprague and renovating Bates.

The size fits the model of schools that Wellesley values: large enough to provide an optimal educational environment yet small enough to maintain the feel of a smaller neighborhood school where the principal knows the name of every child. Notably, with the rare exception for very rural districts, all newly planned and constructed elementary schools across the Commonwealth are being built to a minimum of three sections per grade, with many being built to educate four or five sections per grade.

Why are the proposed projects larger than the other Wellesley elementary schools?

The standards for elementary schools have changed significantly over the years, and as a result, schools are being built larger across the Commonwealth. These two buildings are designed, in large part, to meet the MSBA standards for spaces including properly sized classrooms and “specials” spaces, dedicated spaces for additional services; and dedicated spaces for the district’s special education programs (one each at Hunnewell and Hardy). Each includes a separate gym and cafeteria, an appropriate number of bathrooms, and hallway and circulation space that meets the current building code.

In each school, the gyms are being built a bit larger (7,000 square feet instead of the standard 6,000 square feet) to accommodate community use, including after-school use at Hunnewell by the high school and middle school sports teams.

How will the district-wide special education programs be supported with these projects?

A notable part of the planning for new facilities has been incorporating optimal space for students enrolled in specialized programs. The plan for the new Hunnewell School includes spaces designed to support the long-term needs of the Therapeutic Learning Center, a program for students across the district with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

In that same vein, the plan for the new Hardy will include spaces to support the SKILLS program, which serves students from throughout the district who are on the autism spectrum. The SKILLS program, currently housed at Upham, is space intensive and will greatly benefit from having the right number, sizes, and locations of spaces within a new Hardy school.




Why not just renovate all three schools and keep them all open?


In 2015, the School Facilities Committee did look closely at a scenario where Hardy, Hunnewell, and Upham would receive repairs only. “Repairs” would mean essentially a light renovation - updating building systems (such as plumbing and heating) and bringing the buildings up to code (including accessibility requirements), along with replacing the existing modular classrooms with permanent modular construction.

This repair-only scenario would not address any educational program deficiencies, and in fact, would result in even less educational space due to the need to meet accessibility requirements that would be triggered by the renovation cost. Moreover, any proposed renovations or additions to the spaces within the buildings, or to the sites themselves, carried an estimated price tag of approximately $65 million for construction starting in 2017. Due to five or six years of annual escalation of construction costs (to mid-construction of 2022 or 2023), that project would cost significantly more today.

At the end of such a repair/renovation/addition project, each building would still be significantly undersized by current standards and have numerous serious programmatic deficiencies. Among many examples: Hardy would still have only 14 true classrooms and would lack specialist spaces (in recent years, many of its educators have had no dedicated space and have to work at tables or in corners of larger rooms); Hunnewell would still have a problematic layout and a gym that at just over 2,000 square feet is one-third the size of the MSBA standard of 6,000 square feet; and Upham would still have too-small classrooms, too few classrooms to support the SKILLS program for students on the autism spectrum, a significant lack of storage space, and major accessibility problems, with or without a chairlift/elevator.

The actual construction work associated with a repair/renovation approach would also greatly impact students and staff. The work could not be completed during summer construction periods as was done with the Fiske and Schofield projects, as the building needs are much greater. Thus, “swing space” would be needed for minimum one school year or perhaps longer at each school to remove the students from each site while construction takes place.

During its work, the MPC – whose membership included five architects and one engineer –evaluated all three schools and unanimously and quickly agreed that all required rebuilding in some form: either a new building or possibly salvaging some of the existing schools or facades and building a major addition, and not just repair/renovation.




What will happen to the closed school?


Over the past several years of discussions and within its position statement, the School Committee has repeatedly expressed a commitment to maintain custody of the building and land at the location where a school would be closed, for several reasons. Retaining custody will enable the Committee to quickly move toward building a seventh K-5 school if and when it is clear that it is needed. In the meantime, the Committee can utilize the property for virtually any educational purpose. There is not, and has never been, a desire within the Committee to turn the property back over to the Town or to advocate selling it to an outside party.

It is important to note that any future use of the land will be determined via a separate School Committee process that will include community and neighborhood engagement. There are currently no proposed or conceptual plans for the repurposing of either Hardy or Upham.




Will class sizes change under the HHU plan?


The class size guidelines will remain. Current School Committee policy has set guidelines at 18-22 students for grades K-2, and 22-24 students for grades 3-5.




Is it true that the Town will need to redistrict as part of the HHU project?


Yes. Consolidation from seven to six schools will require redistricting. Under Wellesley’s neighborhood school model, students are assigned to a school depending on their geographic location in town. This redistricting is currently targeted to take place as early as the Fall of 2024.

The Town has not redistricted in nearly 20 years, since Sprague reopened in Fall 2002 and there was an increase from six to seven schools. The School Committee undertook a redistricting process during the 2019-2020 school year as part of the MSBA approval process. The approved Hardy map is due to be implemented after the construction at both Hunnewell and Hardy is complete.




How will the district-wide special education programs be supported with these projects?


A notable part of the planning for new facilities has been incorporating optimal space for students enrolled in specialized programs. The plan for the new Hunnewell School includes spaces designed to support the long-term needs of the Therapeutic Learning Center, a program for students across the district with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

In that same vein, the plan for the new Hardy will include spaces to support the SKILLS program, which serves students from throughout the district who are on the autism spectrum. The SKILLS program, currently housed at Upham, is space intensive and will greatly benefit from having the right number, sizes, and locations of spaces within a new Hardy school.




What is the construction timeline for these projects?


The current proposed construction timeline is as follows:

June 2022: Construction begins on Hunnewell; students are relocated using the internal swing space plan.

Spring/Summer 2023: Construction begins on Hardy.

Early 2024: New Hunnewell opens in February.

Fall 2024: New Hardy reopens. The two elementary school projects are complete and students are redistricted town-wide into six schools




What are some of the deficiencies in the current HHU buildings?


The many issues with these buildings due to their advanced age, very small size and challenging configurations have been well documented. Hardy opened in 1923, Hunnewell in 1938, and Upham in 1957, and have been added onto over the years. All three schools have systems (heating, plumbing, ventilation) and finishes that are well beyond their useful lives, and have outdated, insufficient spaces that make it challenging to deliver the educational program. All three have “temporary” modular classrooms that have been in place for nearly 30 years. Hardy lacks specialist spaces (in recent years, many of its educators have had no dedicated space and have to work at tables, in hallways or in corners of larger rooms). Hunnewell has a problematic layout and a gym that is one-third the size of the MSBA standard of 6,000 square feet. Upham has only 12 classrooms, many of which are too small; too few classrooms to support the SKILLS program for students on the autism spectrum; a significant lack of storage space; and major accessibility problems.




Why are the proposed projects larger than the other Wellesley elementary schools?


The standards for elementary schools have changed significantly over the years, and as a result, schools are being built larger across the Commonwealth. These two buildings are designed, in large part, to meet the MSBA standards for spaces including properly sized classrooms and “specials” spaces, dedicated spaces for additional services; and dedicated spaces for the district’s special education programs (one each at Hunnewell and Hardy). Each includes a separate gym and cafeteria, an appropriate number of bathrooms, and hallway and circulation space that meets the current building code.

In each school, the gyms are being built a bit larger (7,000 square feet instead of the standard 6,000 square feet) to accommodate community use, including after-school use at Hunnewell by the high school and middle school sports teams.




When will the debt exclusion votes happen?


While their approvals will happen at the same time, the Hunnewell and Hardy projects will require separate votes at both Special Town Meeting (currently anticipated for October 2021) and at the ballot box (anticipated December 2021).

The Town will be seeking approval for construction funds for Hunnewell, and approval for design development and construction funds for Hardy. The MSBA process requires these projects to be funded with separate questions.




What about just renovating and then adding on instead of building all new? Wouldn’t that be less expensive?


The total costs would be very similar. The School Building Committee (2017-2020), which was charged with studying all three of the HHU sites and making final recommendations, closely considered both an addition/renovation at Hunnewell and an addition/renovation at Hardy, and also created conceptual plans of an addition/renovation at Upham. In all cases, the total cost was in line with building new, as the same amount of square footage would be required to deliver the educational program.

In the end, the SBC voted overwhelmingly for all new schools, citing swing space and permitting concerns with addition/renovation projects, as well as demonstrating support for floor plans that optimize circulation, classroom size and placement, and long-term flexibility.




What are the key recommendations for the HHU project and how were they made?”


Multiple committees have studied this very challenging problem on behalf of the town, including, but not limited to, the School Facilities Committee (2014-15), the HHU Master Plan Committee (2016-2017), and the School Building Committee (2017-2020). The plans for these buildings have evolved significantly over the years as studies grew more detailed and more information became available. All of the committees included representation from members of town boards as well as members of the community, many of whom have expertise in construction or architecture.

The School Facilities Committee was the first to engage in enrollment studies and general master planning for the project. The 18-member HHU Master Plan Committee (MPC) significantly shaped the project with more detailed master planning studies, as well as an additional enrollment study. The MPC was co-chaired by a resident of the Hardy attendance zone and a resident of the Upham attendance zone, met weekly on average from April 2016 to March 2017, and invited significant public input.. The work of the MPC was summarized in its final report, published on March 16, 2017.

The MPC’s near-unanimous recommendation to build two, 19-classroom schools was based on an in-depth analysis of the Town’s declining K-5 enrollment trends and projections, including two independent enrollment studies. Until enrollment trends significantly upward again, the MPC found that capacity provided by six 18- and 19-classroom schools will be more than sufficient.

The School Committee reviewed the MPC’s final report and adopted a detailed position statement.

The School Building Committee was created by the School Committee and Board of Selectmen in June 2017 and charged with conducting a feasibility study of all three sites and choosing an option for Hunnewell and either Hardy or Upham. The SBC conducted full exploration of the sites, reviewed many conceptual plans, reviewed enrollment for a third time, and made a recommendation to build all-new schools at both Hunnewell and Hardy. Both options were approved by the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen.