By Kate Tobiasson, Contributing Writer
Westborough – There have been a lot of expansions, renovations and building of schools of late in Westborough. Known for strong schools and support of services, the town has voted time and again to support the updating of the school buildings. Many factors lead to what feels like a lot of change, all at once.
Historically, all of the buildings were renovated and a new plan was created for Westborough children in the 1980’s and 90’s. At the time, a large population boom required development of the schools; Westborough High School was renovated and expanded, and Mill Pond was built to help ease the bursting classrooms.
“This caused a perception that when Mill Pond was built, this was going to fix all of the enrollment problems,” Superintendent Amber Bock said. “Instead, Westborough’s population has continued to grow, and so have our needs.”
One thing that Westborough didn’t plan on was the way that the TOV (transit oriented village, located near the MBTA commuter station) would impact the school aged population in town. Designed for young professionals, the development has instead drawn larger families; two busses of children are taken from the village to Westborough schools each day. Additionally, a large number of affordable housing units were installed, and there was another influx of families at the start of the 2010 decade. To continue to hold the high standards of education, the town of Westborough again needed to re-think their schools.
“When I was hired as Superintendent, the town was in the middle of these issues. Westborough is a well-run town, but there hadn’t been a lot of strategic planning for the long term,” said Bock. “The Hastings and Armstrong [elementary] schools needed renovations at the same time; Armstrong had four modulars that were rotted out, and two more at Hastings, without a long term plan on how to replace them. We were out of space in all of our elementary schools, and projected to grow another 8-10 percent. We combined the enrollment study with our demographic study and the study of our buildings and worked to create a plan.”
“In the design of the renovation project that we’re working on, Fales is the third piece of the elementary school renovations. This project is to help support population growth, and to fix some infrastructure issues which had been deferred for a long time,” she explained.
The plan, while costly, was able to account for future growth and continued updating of the two buildings, and Bock hopes to avoid large-scale renovations in the near future. Still, there were more buildings that needed attention. When she took the position of Superintendent, the Sarah W. Gibbons Middle School renovation project was already underway. The town had voted to support the project, but for various reasons the project was delayed, and the Gibbons Building Committee returned to Town Meeting for additional funds when bids came in higher than anticipated. In truth, this was a project started long before the elementary schools, but the timing of implementation overlapped with the newer projects.
“Really, the projects are spread out but the impact is all visible at the same time. Hastings was packed in like sardines and it wasn’t safe; it is much better now. While the package at Hastings wasn’t inexpensive, because we were able to finance it ourselves, we were able to have much more control. We needed to re-do the high school fields, because they were over 10 years old when I became superintendent, and there was no plan on what to do for the long term. We really felt strongly that we needed to do fundraising to lighten the impact on taxpayers, and while that is helpful, it put the project in the spotlight,” Bock noted.
Long term, the schools will surely need continued maintenance and updating, but these projects and long term planning have put Westborough in a place to be able to continue to serve the children well for years to come.
“Being able to educate kids in a diverse community that matches what the world is, is very exciting,” Bock said. “Westborough has this deep rooted town culture, and it is exciting to watch schools and families lead the community to come together.”