Tuesday’s story about repurposing the Mary D. Stone and Julia Bancroft schools into senior housing drew some likes and positive comments, but a couple of residents objected. Hopefully, additional facts will clarify the article and the decisions I wrote about.
One resident commented, “At least one of the schools should be saved/re-built to accommodate a growing child population. Auburn doesn’t need two more apartment complexes.” Neither MDS or JB was ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliant. Town Manager Julie Jacobson added, “The school department had a group of residents analyze future school needs (master plan committee) and determined these 2 schools would not be needed in the future given their physical constraints and costs.”
As for a growing child population, there isn’t one. While Pre-K has added some new students, the general population is stable if not slightly declining. In 2002, there were 2,448 students in the Auburn Public Schools, and in 2016, there were 2,520. If one subtracts the 86 PreK students from this past school year, the numbers are actually lower, at 2,434. The total also includes increased school choice students at the middle and high school levels that have been allowed in recent years. There has been no effort to add school choice at the K-5 levels.
Superintendent Maryellen Brunelle said the highest enrollment at Auburn High School was in 2009 when 765 students were in attendance. She added that Facilities Manager Joe Fahey recently told her that AHS was built with 880 lockers, so there is plenty of room within the building.
The MDS and JB projects are not just apartment complexes, they are elderly housing projects that will incorporate affordable housing for seniors. When people retire, their income traditionally plummets, so the affordable aspect is very important.
Auburn Housing Authority Board Chairman Wayne Page told Auburn Mass Daily, “We desperately need more senior housing. Our waiting list usually has over 200 names.”
Jacobson added, “We need senior housing which has little impact on town services. These proposals each meet the town’s goals and priorities and represent the highest and best use of these properties.”
Out of Auburn’s housing stock, about 3.6% is considered affordable, far less that the state goal of 10%. These proposed new apartments will add to the percentage of affordable housing. Also, there are very few apartments in Auburn, which prevents young people from staying in town or moving to town.
Another reader commented that class sizes had increased. Actually, no, although there are anomalies in the school population. This year, 150 students graduated from Auburn High School while the sophomore class had 196. Dr. Brunelle said there is no real explanation for these fluctuations, but the district adapts as needed.
In the upcoming school year, two preschool classes will be at Pakachoag School, and an additional classroom will be constructed at Bryn Mawr this summer. Readers may remember that an additional portable classroom was installed at Bryn Mawr last year as well. The School Committee has vowed to keep elementary classrooms under 25 students, and when that wasn’t possible at Bryn Mawr, they hired an additional teacher.
Hopefully, the above facts will help clarify a few things, and residents should keep in mind that these decisions aren’t being made behind closed doors. Most public meetings in Auburn are televised on the Community Access channels, as well as being posted on YouTube. There are plenty of opportunities to stay informed about Town happenings.
As always, the best way to get the full picture is to be involved with the community.