The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are broken into three main categories. These will be updated from time to time as the project progresses 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. The Town has been working to develop a resolution since a School Conditions Assessment was completed in 2012.
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 and as few as six. WPS elementary enrollment has declined by nearly 400 students since its 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 agrees with the recommendation of the HHU Master Plan Committee (MPC) 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. In making its recommendations, the MPC considered the substantial cost of building new schools, the long-term K-5 enrollment decline, the Town’s commitment to the neighborhood school model, and the need to rebuild and not just repair/renovate the HHU schools.
The Hardy, Hunnewell, and Upham schools are the Town’s smallest elementary schools, with 256, 254, and 222 students, respectively, as of October 1, 2019. The school buildings are also undersized for their populations, and lack the specialized spaces that are necessary for delivering 21st Century education.
The MPC’s recommendation, which the School Committee voted to accept, was to build schools of 19 classrooms each, the same number as at Bates and Sprague. This would provide three classrooms per grade, with one additional classroom available for “bubble” enrollment years. 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.
If the Town builds two 19-classroom schools, what will be the total elementary capacity?
Maximum capacity is 436 students for 19-classroom schools, and 414 students for 18-classroom schools. Thus, after the HHU project is complete, the district’s total maximum K-5 capacity for the six schools would be approximately 2,572 students.
For the 2019-20 school year, the Wellesley Public Schools has 2,092 K-5 students.
Has it been decided which two schools will be rebuilt, and which school will close?
No - not yet. 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 committees who have reviewed the issues 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.)
With the second project, known as the Hardy/Upham project, the Town has the opportunity to partner with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for one building that would address both schools, and be reimbursed by the State for up to 35 percent of eligible costs. The decision has not been made as to whether to build at Hardy or Upham with the MSBA. A decision is expected to be made by Spring of 2020. When that project is complete, likely in 2024, the school that is not rebuilt will close.
Why is a minimum of three classrooms per grade the School Committee and administration’s standard?
The MPC and other committees have considered the appropriate size of a K-5 school for Wellesley. 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 MPC’s January 26, 2017 meeting. The principals described three classrooms per grade or 350-425 students to be their minimum preferred size.
The School Committee accepted and voted to adopt this position, which is wholly consistent with the stated views 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. With the rare exception for very rural districts, all newly planned and constructed elementary schools across the Commonwealth – which includes all of Wellesley’s cohort districts – are being built to a minimum of three sections per grade, with many being built to educate four or five sections per grade.
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?
No. The class size guidelines will remain. 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.
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. Although redistricting will not be implemented for several years, the School Committee is undertaking a redistricting process this school year in order to have two potential maps available for consideration as part of the Hardy/Upham feasibility study: one in the event that Hardy is rebuilt and one in the event that Upham is rebuilt. The MSBA requires submission of the selected redistricting map at the conclusion of the feasibility study phase.
It is important to note that any final redistricting plan likely would not be implemented until the 2024-25 school year at the earliest, when the new Upham or Hardy school is scheduled to open.
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 conceptual 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 or Upham 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 or Upham school.
What is the timeline for these projects?
The current proposed timeline, given the School Committee’s decision to request design funds for Hunnewell at a December 2019 Special Town Meeting, is as follows:
Summer/Fall 2021: Construction begins on Hunnewell; students are relocated using the internal swing space plan
Summer 2022: Construction begins on Hardy or Upham
Spring or Fall 2023: New Hunnewell reopens
Spring or Fall 2024: New Hardy or Upham reopens
Fall 2024: Project is complete and students are redistricted into six schools
In the event that the Town must wait to build a new Hunnewell school until after the Hardy/Upham project is complete, the likely timeline would be:
Summer 2022: Construction begins on Hardy or Upham
Spring or Fall 2024: New Hardy or Upham is complete
Fall 2024: Either Hardy or Upham school closes and students are redistricted into six schools; Construction begins on Hunnewell; students are relocated into the closed Hardy or Upham
Spring or Fall 2026: New Hunnewell reopens and project is complete