By Cameron Myette
HANSON — Selectmen voted 5-0 Tuesday, March 21 to support the School Committee’s timeline for closing the Maquan School by the fall of 2018.
After a meeting last week concerning the closing of Maquan, members of the School Committee — including Chaiman Bob Hayes — and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner met with Selectmen to discuss the future of Maquan School.
The detailed discussion, which lasted more than an hour, focused on whether to continue to keep the school open for another year or to initiate an immediate shutdown of the building.
Gilbert-Whitner said she was tasked with organizing focus groups and described the School Department’s research into the issue.
“We really wanted to do an in depth look at what would be the impact … needed to look at the programs, age ranges of students, moving from one program to the other,” she said of a variety of considerations involved. “What would it take to move one facility into another and what kind of retrofitting needs to happen.”
Members of the Hanson Public Schools took an in-depth look at closing the building and potential up-front costs involved [See related story].
Three focus groups were created to brainstorm ideas and create a matrix of sorts into what problems would arise from closing the school. The first focus group was of the building principals. They analyzed space issues, age ranges and potential difficulties with educational programs for students.
The second focus group was special education programs and how these systems would be impacted, in particular compliance with current regulations. Finally, the third focus group discussed pre-school and how it would operate.
One definitive conclusion that was brought about from this third group was that there would never be room for a pre-school if the students were to be moved to the high school. This fact motivated the idea that the closing of the Macquan School in the Fall of 2018 was feasible for the town community.
Selectmen questioned the option of keeping the building open.
This decision would result in concerns with the outdated sprinklers, heating system, and security infrastructure that currently exists in the building.
Selectman Bruce Young raised questions concerning logistical spaces and what the septic system could handle.
Arguments were made that if the school were to be kept open too long, costs would rise in order to maintain the school at an appropriate operational capacity, especially throughout the winter.
Yet students remained at the center of the discussion.
It is important to note that program laws in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have changed over the past 20-30 years, school officials noted. Enrollment designs must be made for today’s world, some members argued.
Before a final decision, another discussion focused on the impact of this decision, including realigning resources, retrofitting classrooms, and what this closing means for students.
Questions raised included:
• What would happen with state wide testing and computer labs?
• Would the budget be based on the state of past town budgets? And even questions on where staff members would park are concerns in this important yet aggressive decision to change the way in which the Hanson Public School system operates.
The future use of the school building, including the gym, was of great concern to the town community.
Some recommended an engineering study of the building to see how it could be used in the future, which would cost approximately $25,000 to $30,000 dollars. Others saw this as an opportunity to rent the building out as elderly housing.
No information from the school’s report was up for a vote. That decision is set for April 12 to permit officials to obtain more information needed concerning funding and potential uses for the school.