School Committee Receives Killam Update

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READING, MA — This past Thursday, the team hired by the town to develop plans for a proposed update to the Killam Elementary School presented the School Committee with a report on its activities thus far, which included a suggested project timeline. Mike Carroll, from Colliers, the owner’s project manager, suggested a project timeframe that consists of a town vote in June of 2025, a move-in date in the fall of 2028, and the completion of the project during the summer of 2029.

Leigh Sherwood, from Lavallee-Bresinger Architects (LBA), said that his team began by starting to understand the vision the community has for the project and determining what type of spatial program will support that vision. According to Sherwood, goals for the project are a space that is community-centered, aligned with educational vision, responsibly sustainable in design, and is a place of belonging that is safe and healthy for students and staff. Collins referenced an anecdote regarding a neighbor who shared that they watch drop-off and pick-up at Killam every day with concern regarding the safety of students and parents during those times.

LBA Project Manager Jenni Katajamaki reported that the team spent several days at Killam with the goal of experiencing the culture that already exists at the school. She indicated that the team found the school warm and welcoming, with a family feeling, and that the people there genuinely seemed to like one another. Faculty and staff were full of ideas about what a new project could entail. The team has also taken tours of schools in Ashland, Tewksbury, and Danvers.

Existing conditions assessments are also underway, looking at issues such as traffic, potential environmental concerns, and geotechnical problems. “The fewer unknowns you have, the better off you will be,” Collins added. Katajamaki followed this, acknowledging that the team is still in the information-gathering phase of its plans.

After a question from School Committee member Shawn Brandt, Sherwood also addressed the issue of the lifetime of certain features. “I’m sure a sunken library in the middle of the school seemed like a good idea in the late sixties,” Brandt quipped. Sherwood responded that one way of mitigating these issues is by not using concrete block for the interior walls of the building, as they are challenging to move around with the changing needs of education.

Sherwood also noted that the needs of pre-kindergarten students and special needs programs will be considered in the design. “We are . . . making a school that fits you and drives you forward rather than in ten years having you say, ‘That doesn’t work for us anymore.’ That would be a disaster,” Collins stated.

There will be multiple community meetings as the project continues to progress, the next one on February 29, to explore the town’s sustainability goals. After that, a meeting is scheduled for March 18 for a site and traffic listening session.

The School Committee reviewed the 2024-25 school calendar for the first time. Brandt questioned the consolidation of the back-to-school nights for parents with multiple children. Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Sarah Hardy shared the thought process used to determine the timing of the suggested dates. “The way [the back-to-school nights] are organized should provide most parents enough time to meet all their teachers,” Hardy affirmed.

School Committee chair Thomas Wise also questioned why the last day of school is planned for a Monday, though he recognized that the calendar does not account for snow days. At the same time, he praised the idea that winter break would begin at the end of school on Friday, December 20, rather than after Monday the 23rd. Wise also recognized efforts to limit “no-school November.”

The committee intends to vote on the calendar at its February 29 meeting.

Director of Finance Derek Pinto concluded the meeting with a brief second-quarter financial update. At this time, he projects an end-of-year balance of $565,000. His team is considering using some of the funds for additional curriculum purchases, technology updates, and enhancing the special education reserve fund.

The School Committee adjourned at 8:30 pm. 

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