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New elementary school forum held virtually

Westwood town residents tuned in Wednesday night via Zoom for an update on the town’s plans to build a new elementary school, which is expected to house 560 students at peak enrollment.  The new school will replace and combine the aging Hanlon and Deerfield schools and sit on 18 acres behind the existing Hanlon site on Gay Street.

The School Committee Community Forum featured a 45 minute presentation by project manager Roberto Fitzgerald from the architectural design firm Dore + Whittier, and a 45 minute question and answer session during which questions posted in the chat feature were addressed for all to hear. He emphasized two elements that formed the base of their design for the project.

“Our inspiration for the design came from the woods,” he said. “When we walked back there, we found that we can really integrate this idea of a school in the woods into our design. The other part of our design is looking at the school through the eyes of a child.”

Fitzgerald also noted the inclusion of playing fields and open spaces that the community can access and enjoy as well. Green spaces are included in the design and a town little league field will be relocated to the old Hanlon site, where a new soccer field be created. The school will also have outdoor learning and play areas integrated into the hardscape.

“There is a high need for additional basketball space in the community, so this gym is about twice the size of a gym that would normally be expected for a school of this size,” explained Fitzgerald. “That’s a huge community benefit.”

Traffic flow issues, which plague the existing Hanlon School, are also addressed in this plan. To prevent school traffic from backing up onto Gay Street, there will be separate entrances for parent drop-off and school buses, and there will parking located between each.

Many questions raised by participants in the forum centered on the property that will house the new school site. It is the 37-acre parcel of land known as Shuttleworth, which Westwood purchased from the Town from Dedham in the late 1960’s for school use. The new school site will incorporate approximately nine acres of the Shuttleworth property into its 18-acre design.

“The school project is looking to move into the Southwest corner of the Shuttleworth parcel,” explained Maya Plotkin, chair of the School Building Committee. “While we will have to clear woods for this project, because the design concept that is driving the school project is to create a ‘school in the woods’, it is our intention to mitigate the impact on the existing woods as much as possible.  For example, we plan to relocate the existing trail that extends into Lowell Woods, to ensure residents can continue to access Lowell Woods, and we hope to replace a fair amount of the trees we had to clear from the site.  We intend to maintain a strong connection to the school and the woods, not just for our students, but for the entire community,” she said.

You can watch a replay of the Community Forum here.

Residents were able to complete a survey using Google Docs which asked for input on design aspects such as color and materials used on the building exterior as well as input on the current proposed exterior design of the school. Plotkin said those comments will be factored in as the architects move the design forward.

“We plan to have another community forum later this fall where we will delve into the interior of the school,” she said.  “We are appreciative that residents have been involved during each step of the process and we hope to see that level of engagement continue.”

Final designs and the cost estimates will be made public next spring, including the total portion to be paid for by the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority). The project comes up for a vote at Town Meeting next spring. If it passes, there will be a special ballot to approve the funding.

The final phase, groundbreaking, could begin in the spring of 2022 with students moving into the new school during the 2023/2024 school year.

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