In April, Needham filed Statements of Interest with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) seeking funding to upgrade the Mitchell Elementary School and Pollard Middle School. MSBA is a quasi-public state authority that provides competitive grants based on the urgency of projects.

The school district is seeking comprehensive renovation or replacement of Mitchell, which is nearly 70 years old. The facility’s core educational spaces are currently 42% below MSBA standards for a school its size, its teaching spaces are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, most of the building’s systems are deficient and its energy performance is poor.

Speaking before the Select Board, Superintendent of Schools Dan Gutekanst cited overcrowding, the desire to avoid having students face construction projects at each step as they rise through town schools, avoiding the use of additional facilities, growing building maintenance costs as the facilities age, as well as the potential need to provide space for universal preschool, as reasons for seeking the upgrades.

In the summer of 2014 and again in 2019, the town invested in modular classrooms at Mitchell to reduce overcrowding, but the additions moved the school only from being 42% undersized to 30% undersized. A more permanent solution is needed.

Over the next several months, MSBA will review Needham’s Statements of Interest. During this process, the organization may seek additional or clarifying information from the town.

If the MSBA board of directors votes to invite the district into the eligibility period, the group will work with the school district to identify potential solutions to the issues identified in the SOIs.

MSBA reimbursements begin at a base rate of 31%, but two additional steps could increase the rate. The first is a review of the district’s income, the value of its properties, and its poverty rate.

Next, MSBA adds up to 18 additional percentage points to the reimbursement rate based on incentive factors such as the district’s adopting a high-efficiency, green-school program, pursuing the renovation or re-use of existing facilities and implementing best practices for routine and capital maintenance. 

Needham resident Charles Chieppo is the principal of Chieppo Strategies.

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