Object: Build a one level Lexington preschool at the Pelham Road Property

Background: The Lexington Selectmen purchased a large property on Pelham Road, formerly known as the Armenian Sisters Academy. The purpose at that time was unclear. In Spring 2017, town meeting was told that the 50+ year old school would be converted in part into a preschool, and in part into a community center. By Fall 2017, the plan had shifted, and the plan is now to demolish the old school and build a preschool on this site. A community center expansion is envisioned to be built later on another part of this site.

Unknown Fact: Some are surprised to learn that Lexington has a public preschool today at Harrington school, and has this program to provide preschool education to special education students. In order to mainstream those students, they are matched at approximately 1:1 by tuition paying regular education students.

Motivation: Proponents state that Lexington preschool deserves a first class space, and not to be displaced every few years without a permanent home. Moreover, opening this school will free up space at Harrington school, and hence increase student capacity.

Surprise: The school committee indicated that MSBA does not fund preshools, yet the MSBA has funded this preschool / kindergarten project.


Commentary

Concern: At about $23 million, this project is among the most expensive ways in which to add a small amount of school capacity. It is expected to free up about four classrooms in Harrington and “Old Harrington”. Moreover, the Pelham property is the largest property obtained by the town for possible education purposes in many years.

As of November 2017, 74 students are registered for preschool.

Unanticipated Effects: What impact would opening a new preschool have on school enrollment? What impact will it have on special needs enrollment?

The following items issues should be addressed before committing Pelham to a preschool use:

  • What is the master plan for the Lexington public school system?
  • Where will a seventh elementary school be located, and when?
  • When will the high school be replaced or renovated?
  • Where will the Lexington school administration move?
  • What is the plan for Old Harrington school? And for the Laconia property?
Item Cost Budget
Land Purchase $8,000,000 Operating Budget
Design, Demolition, Construction $14,879,342 Debt Exclusion
Total Costs $22,879,342

The appropriations committee voted 7-0-2 (two abstentions for this project.) The report states: “A minority of the Committee, while understanding the needs of the LCP program and liking the design of the new facility, had difficulty coming to terms with the cost, hence chooses to abstain.

The fact that there are very few similar projects in other towns in this part of the state also raises the question as to how other towns address their needs and whether there might be more cost-effective ways to accommodate the early childhood program.

The appropriations report discloses that an additional $100,000-$200,000 may be spent to revise the design shifting the property further away from wetlands.

Town meeting was told the MSBA does not reimburse for preschools. Yet, the MSBA has reimbursed for this preschool project. Do any other towns build stand alone preschools?