WILDWOOD DOMINO EFFECT: Wilmington Considering Moving 5th Grade To Middle School, 8th Grade To High School & Purchasing Up To 16 Modular Classrooms

WILMINGTON, MA – Under the best case scenario, town officials acknowledge a new Wildwood Early Childhood Center will not be built for another 5 to 7 years.  

With Wildwood students currently spread across the school district – 5 classrooms at the West; 4 classrooms at the Shawsheen; and 3 classrooms at the Woburn Street – the Wildwood Building Committee – working in conjunction with consultant Dore & Whittier – are currently examining 8 scenarios that will bring the Wildwood community back together, hopefully as soon as the 2023-2024 school year.

“The situation is tenable for this school year. We will make it work. But it is not sustainable for this interim [5-to-7 year] period,” Wildwood Principal Kate Bissell told the Building Committee at its September 20 meeting. “We have staff working in closets… squeezing tables into hallways. It’s going to lead to staff burnout over time”

Bissell also noted that Wildwood families, while often displaying great patience and flexibility, are frustrated about how the current arrangement can negatively affect family structure and logistics surrounding student drop-off, pick-up and after-school activities.

Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand told the Committee that the results from a recent Widwood staff feedback survey confirmed that having the school community spread out across three schools was “less than ideal.”

“If you’re asking me if this is an arrangement that we can stay in for the next 5 to 7 years? I don’t,” he emphasized.

The Committee has begun to explore 8 options, whittled down from an original list of 16, and will receive cost estimates for each at its next meeting on Monday, October 3 at 6pm.

6 of the 8 options involve the purchasing or leasing of modular classrooms, and 4 of the 8 involve grade reconfigurations, including 2 options where 8th graders would attend Wilmington High School and 1 option where 5th graders would attend Wilmington Middle School.

The 8 options under consideration include:

  • A limited renovation of the existing Wildwood School (“bare bones” upgrades to eek out 5 to 7 more years)
  • A partial renovation of the existing Wildwood School’s Core Space only (would require 12 modular classrooms)
  • Better accommodate temporary moves at Woburn, Shawsheen and West Schools (would require 12 modular classrooms – 4 at each school)
  • A relocation of the Wildwood to a private site (8 commercial properties are under consideration, but all have essentially already been eliminated) 
  • A relocation of the Wildwood + a grade reconfiguration for the north side of town only to PK-2 / 3-5. (would require 16 modular classrooms – 8 at Woburn Street and 8 at the North)
  • A relocation of the Wildwood + a grade reconfiguration for the entire town to PK / K-2 / 3-4 / 5-8 / 9-12. (would require 8 modular classrooms – 3 at Woburn Street, 3 at Shawsheen, and 2 at the Middle School)
  • A relocation of the Wildwood + a grade reconfiguration for entire town to PK / K-2 / 3-4 / 5-7 / 8-12. (would require 6 modular classrooms – 3 at Woburn Street and 3 at Shawsheen; age-appropriate playgrounds also needed)
  • A relocation of the Wildwood + a grade reconfiguration for entire town to PK / K-1 / 2-4 / 5-7 / and 8-12. (would require 10 modular classrooms – 8 at the North with site prep needed and 2 at the West)

School Committee Vice Chair David Ragsdale noted he had “a lot of trepidation” about grade reconfigurations, but was happy to see so many options under consideration, as it gives residents a realistic idea of the choices that are being weighed and the tradeoffs that come with each.

Superintendent Brand acknowledged that a grade reconfiguration requires a lot of thought.

“There is a lot more to consider around the idea of moving the 8th grade to the high school,” Brand added. “This might be something that, for our community, actually has a lot of merit. It is something to consider. We just didn’t think or anticipate that we’d back into [that reconfiguration] as a result of this project.”

Selectman Kevin Caira expressed a desire to find out the costs of these options as soon as possible.

“It’s important for the community, considering we have two major projects coming up [Senior Center proposal and Town Ha//School Administration proposal], and if this becomes explosive in regards to cost, I can see those two projects not succeeding,” Caira told the Committee. “That’s why it’s important to get us what it’s going to cost us today, tomorrow and 5 years from now.”

Selectman Greg Bendel asked for a ballpark estimate on the cost of just one modular classroom.

“Depending on what’s in them, one modular classroom can be a couple of hundred thousands dollars,” responded the project manager. It was unclear if that cost was a purchase cost or a leasing cost, but both types of costs will be presented to the Committee at its next meeting.

Finance Committee member Marianne Gallezzo signaled support for eventually returning the students to the existing Wildwood, once safe, until a new school is opened. She noted the building was being used as a school just 7 months ago, until it closed following an oil leak from a fuel delivery gone bad in late February 2022. 

Wilmington parent and PAWS Committee member Jennifer Binelli encouraged the Committee to not just consider costs, when evaluating the options, but to also keep in mind what is best for the school district.  

“Parent input is critical to this evaluation, as well as the role the [selected option] plays in relation to the district’s strategic initiatives,” said Binelli, asking how the options will affect the retention of young families who are leaving the district, the retention rates at the middle school and the high school, the district’s busing situation, and the district’s efforts to improve school start times for high school and middle school students.

Town Manager Jeff Hull explained the need for an expedited decision process, noting the group “does not have the luxury of time.”

“We’re under some time constraints,” stressed Hull. “The budget is due to the Board of Selectmen at the end of January… One of the first steps in the budget process is to update the five-year capital improvement plan, which includes major expenditures for buildings. That information is typically presented in early November. The deadline we’re using for this project is mid-November.”

Superintendent Brand outlined the group’s next steps, which include:

  • Wildwood Building Committee meets on October 3 and is presented the consultant’s final report, including cost estimates for each option.
  • The Wildwood Building Committee leads a community outreach campaign to gather public feedback from October 4 through October 14.
  • The Wildwood Building Committee makes a preliminary report to the School Committee at its October 12 meeting.
  • The Wildwood Building Committee meets during the week of October 17 to review feedback and finalize its recommendation.
  • The Wildwood Building Committee makes its final report and recommendation to the School Committee at its October 26 meeting.
  • The School Committee makes its decision on the best option at its November 16 meeting.

Residents can watch a recording of the Wildwood Building Committee meeting from September 20 HERE.

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