Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Students relocated from Winter Hill Community Innovation School in Somerville won’t have immediate access to an equivalent playground, parents say. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Students at the Winter Hill Community Innovation School in Somerville will not return to their school next fall, according to an email from district officials. Starting Aug. 30, the Winter Hill community will be split across two campuses at the Capuano Early Childhood Education Center and the Edgerly Education Building.

The decision comes after a piece of nonstructural concrete fell in the north stairwell of the Winter Hill school at the end of May, prompting city officials to close the building and cancel classes for the school’s 422 students the next week. Winter Hill students completed the year in spaces at Tufts University and the Edgerly Building.

For Winter Hill families, the decision to split the school across two campuses represents another compromise for their children because of delayed maintenance. This year, families and educators raised infrastructure concerns at two school committee meetings before the concrete fell, on March 20 and May 8.

“People for a long time have been trying to bring attention to the needs of those students, and it hasn’t been a priority until this crisis happened,” said Brendan Buckland, Winter Hill’s dean of students.

This fall, Winter Hill Pre-K and K students – a total of three classes – will attend school at the Capuano Early Childhood Education Center at 150 Glen St., East Somerville. Students in first to eighth grade, including those in the AIM program for students on the autism spectrum, will be relocated elsewhere in East Somerville, to the Edgerly Building at 8 Bonair St.

The Edgerly Education Building houses the district’s administrative staff, but the all-concrete, brick masonry building constructed in 1920, was once a school, according to district documents. In 2019 the building was rated as being in “poor to fair condition” with repairs needed to steps, railings and windows. There is a black top and a nearby playground where students may be able to play sometimes, but nothing like the Winter Hill playground.

The Edgerly also does not have the air filtration systems that other city schools have, city director of infrastructure and asset management Rich Raiche said at a community meeting Tuesday.

Somerville staff will vacate the Edgerly building during the first week of July to leave time for the district to prepare the building for the start of the school year.

Not everyone can vote with their feet

The plan creates challenges for families, many of whom live close to the closed Winter Hill building.

Parents at Tuesday’s community meeting asked how the district will support them if they have a much farther commute or if they now have to drop their children off at two different locations.

Some parents asked whether they could enroll their children in another school.

“I’d want to hustle to go to a school that’s more convenient if we can’t get transportation across town,” parent Michelle Barczykowski said.

But not everyone can vote with their feet.

Winter Hill is the only Somerville school with the Newcomer Academy, which houses a Structured English Language Immersion Program, and the AIM program for students on the autism spectrum. The disruption to routine that comes with a new building and change of plans can be particularly hard for these students, Buckland said. And students in these programs have to attend Winter Hill.

“They are at the mercy of whatever happens at the Winter Hill,” Buckland said.

For the end of the 2022-2023 school year, that program was a makeshift classroom at Tufts University.

A community, split

At a recent School Committee meeting, Kate St. Laurent, the parent of a Winter hill preschooler, said her daughter missed being with her teachers and friends during the week the building was closed.

“I realized that it doesn’t matter for her that she’s in this beautiful, brand-new building at Capuano. It’s about her community and the people she associates as her home,” St. Laurent said. “We are wanting a new building – but please, please keep the community together next year.”

During Tuesday’s community meeting, Ines Lee Santos, parent of a preschooler, wondered how the school would make students at the Capuano feel like they are part of the Winter Hill Community.

She also raised a question about whether the school will ever be a complete community again.

“This process has done a lot to undermine our faith and our trust in city hall,” Santos said. “So I would also like to know if the feasibility studies that are being done are focused on the Winter Hill location, or if you are looking to further [break] a community apart.”

The district said it has no answers yet about whether students will be split across multiple buildings for a year or more.

“There are two different time scales – what’s going to happen next year and what’s going to happen in the distant future,” Buckland said. “People are still wrapping their heads around what next year looks like, and that’s an emergency situation because we can’t go into our school building. But you start to wonder what will happen in the future. Will our community be a single building together?”