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New elementary school for Orange?

Supt. says time is right to build single school

  • Recorder file photo<br/>Dexter Park is about 30 percent full, with about 200 students out of a capacity of just over 700. It opened in 1951 and underwent renovations during the next 30 years, including the addition of four portable classrooms which are still used.

    Recorder file photo
    Dexter Park is about 30 percent full, with about 200 students out of a capacity of just over 700. It opened in 1951 and underwent renovations during the next 30 years, including the addition of four portable classrooms which are still used.

  • Recorder file photo<br/>Butterfield, originally built in 1880, is about 40 percent full, enrolling about 200 students compared to space for 525. It received its most recent renovation in 1926.

    Recorder file photo
    Butterfield, originally built in 1880, is about 40 percent full, enrolling about 200 students compared to space for 525. It received its most recent renovation in 1926.

  • Recorder file photo<br/>Dexter Park is about 30 percent full, with about 200 students out of a capacity of just over 700. It opened in 1951 and underwent renovations during the next 30 years, including the addition of four portable classrooms which are still used.
  • Recorder file photo<br/>Butterfield, originally built in 1880, is about 40 percent full, enrolling about 200 students compared to space for 525. It received its most recent renovation in 1926.

ORANGE — Given the town’s fiscal challenges of the past few years, it might seem odd timing to build a new elementary school. But according to school officials, it may be the ideal time to take advantage of available state grants and to consolidate school expenses.

Selectmen vote tonight on whether to move forward with the elementary school committee’s plans to explore building one big school to replace three older buildings — Fisher Hill School, Dexter Park School and Butterfield School — that are, in total, about 40 percent full.

According to Superintendent Michael Baldassarre, the state will provide approximately 80 percent of the reimbursement for a new school. He added these rates may not be quite as favorable once Orange rebuilds its budget and becomes more financially robust in coming years.

“If someone told me I could build a house right now for 20 cents on the dollar, I’d drive to Home Depot right now and start buying supplies,” he said.

Baldassarre added that one big new building will allow school officials to achieve efficiencies that are impossible with three current, older schools.

“They’re money pits,” he said, alluding to recent and costly repairs to school roofs, heating and other major systems.

Butterfield, originally built in 1880, received its most recent renovation in 1926. Dexter Park was opened in 1951 and underwent renovations during the next 30 years, including the addition of four portable classrooms which are still used. Fisher Hill, the newest of the three, was built 22 years ago.

A single elementary building will also consolidate many administrative expenses, he added, so that more school dollars can be directed toward classroom learning, “Instead of three principals, we’ll have one principal; instead of three cafeteria directors, we’ll have one.”

Student enrollments are low compared to the buildings’ student capacity.

Fisher Hill is the only school that is more than hall full, with about 300 students in a school that has room for 525, according to Eric Schladt, facilities manager for the Orange Elementary School District.

Butterfield is about 40 percent full, enrolling about 200 students compared to space for 525. Dexter Park is about 30 percent full, with about 200 students out of a capacity of just over 700, said Schladt.

According to Baldassarre, one elementary school building would reduce the number of transitions Orange children make, and will allow the elementary system to have a consistent school culture, set of rules, and curriculum.

Currently, Orange children move from Fisher Hill School to Dexter Park School in third grade. They move again to Butterfield School in fifth grade before transitioning to Mahar Middle School in seventh grade.

If selectmen approve the initiative, the town will submit a letter of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the first step in the application for state funds. The elementary school committee voted to submit the letter of interest earlier this month.

Reporter Chris Shores contributed to this story.

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