Monday, June 24, 2024

Part of the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper schools could be kept but upgraded in a proposed campus upgrade for 2024. (Photo: Google)

The public comment period for the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools Project – a $250 million overhaul of the schools and public playing fields – has been extended to Jan. 3. The new campus is expected to open in September 2024, with the capacity of the reconfigured campus increasing to 1,164 students from 725, including a projected student body at a new Vassal Lane of 450. The three redesign proposals increase the building size to around 298,000 square feet from 128,000, with an additional 55,000 in underground parking spaces for a total 353,000 square feet.

Last week Lee Gianetti, director of communications in the City Manager’s Office, answered written questions about the project. The Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.

A portion of the site is protected under “Article 97” – what does this mean?

In connection with the process of renovating the Father Callanan Playground on the site of the Tobin School property in 2006, the city agreed with state government to designate portions as open space protected for use by the public under the provisions of its Article 97. Therefore, if any such portions of the site are proposed to be moved, relocated or otherwise used for a purpose inconsistent with Article 97 as part of the Tobin School and Vassal Lane Upper School project, the city would need relief from the Legislature.

The program capacity table in an architect’s Dec. 2 handout notes that two Vassal Lane programs are not “additive” – please explain.

Vassal Lane Upper School is home to two programs that operate within a specific classroom for the majority of the day, but whose students also spend some parts of their day with peers: The Sheltered English Immersion Program and a special education program for students with learning disabilities. These two groups of students are included in the total maximum enrollment for the upper school, which is 450 students. Classrooms at Vassal Lane are planned to account for students spending parts of their day with peers in general education, and some students moving fully into the mainstream/general education environment in the future.

Updated program capacity numbers as presented Dec. 2 by the city and Perkins Eastman architects.

What departments will be housed in the space marked “district uses?”

The current Tobin/Vassal Lane building includes two areas that benefit the district as a whole: Under the Tobin gym is space used by the Facilities Department, which would be redesigned but remain in the building; and some Office of Student Services staff members that serve Tobin and the Vassal Lane Upper School provide services at other schools and are considered district employees.

The increase in space for “district uses” reflects the plan to relocate the science department to the planned new building. This department requires more space than other curriculum departments (most of which are housed in the administration building on Berkshire Street), due to the specialized equipment and supplies needed to study science. This department is at 359 Broadway but had previously been at the Tobin school before the Innovation Agenda. Relocating the Science Department to Tobin and Vassal Lane will allow us to plan better for the space needs of this department.

Are the new/augmented preschool, elementary special education and the expanded special start programs new, or will they be transferred from another school?

Tobin Montessori School has historically been home to one Special Start classroom. Next year, when Tobin Montessori moves to swing space, three existing special start classrooms will join this classroom – inside Tobin Montessori. The plan for the new building will allow us to add a fifth Special Start classroom in response to projected future enrollment.

The preschool classrooms being proposed for the Department of Human Service Programs are additional classrooms that will enhance Cambridge’s ability to provide more young children with access to a high quality pre-kindergarten experience. There are many fewer pre-kindergarten programs in the north and west side of the city compared with the rest of the city. There are large numbers of young children who live in that part of the city.

Comments on the project can be sent to Kate Riley, community relations manager, Department of Public Works. Previously submitted public comments are available on the city’s project Web page, as well as an updated presentation from the joint City Council and School Committee meeting on Dec. 2.