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Wanted in Groton: public feedback on school use

Building committee continues community outreach for input on elementary school's future

The Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton
The Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton

GROTON – The future of the Florence Roche Elementary School could be in the hands of local residents.

Last month, the Florence Roche Building Committee held its first community input meeting to garner the public’s thoughts on what could be improved or added to the 68-year-old building on Main Street.

The current building is 69,468 square-feet and sits on the same 11.8 acre site as the Groton Dunstable Middle School and the Peter Twomey Youth Center.

Laura Chesson, superintendent of the Groton-Dunstable School District, said that community members and herself believe Florence Roche should stay at the site on Main Street. Chesson said the “ideal vision” of Florence Roche would be somewhere in the center of town.

“We want to make sure that we design a school that meets the needs of the community in the Groton-Dunstable district,” she added. “We want to make sure they have an equal educational experience. The universal design for learning should be supported by the building.”

According to the Statement of Interest submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in 2017, Florence Roche has many issues requiring improvements.

The statement notes how the school’s HVAC system causes some classrooms to have heating issues, the shut-off valves of the plumbing aren’t working properly, asbestos was found in the crawl spaces where the steam pipes are located and many of the bathroom toilets and fixtures do not work.

The statement also points out leaks roof leaks, one of the hot water tanks and some of the building’s steam pipes. The school also needs a new intercom system, telephone system, fire alarm system and security measures.

“Buildings that are of the age of Florence Roche are likely to be renovated,” Chesson said. “The gym and media room are not nearly the right sizes for our children. The acoustics for our stage are poor and the library is very short on space. Our special education philosophies have changed significantly and the current building doesn’t support its programs.”

The building committee, which first met in December 2018, has so far collaborated with the MSBA to begin a feasibility study that would determine the potential of constructing a new school or simply doing renovations. The study itself is currently being performed by designer architect Studio G Architects, which is being overseen by the Owner’s Project Manager Leftfield.

Marlena Gilbert, vice chair of the building committee, said the feasibility study is meant to “clearly define the best solution for Florence Roche academically and financially that is sustainable.”

Gilbert said the study is expected to take about 12 months.

“The committee would like to see a solution that best serves our students and taxpayers,” she added. “The community and the Building Committee await the results of the Feasibility Study prior to having any preference in how to resolve this issue.”

Town Manager Mark Haddad said last month that the project is still in the middle of the feasibility phase. He added that the building committee has been narrowing down possible locations for the school, including near the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.

“Hopefully we’ll go into the design phase by next spring,” he said.

Gilbert said that more open sessions where community members can get updates on the project and offer their input will be held. She added that an electronic survey to gather more feedback on the project is in the works.

Chesson added that the building is likely not to be open until 2023 and it’s too early to determine a price tag on the project.