Roundtable on Pre-K and Tobin School Project (12/2/19) (2 Responses)

The City Council and School Committee will hold a joint roundtable meeting on Monday, December 2, 2019, to discuss a report on Universal Pre-K and to review the conceptual designs for the Tobin Montessori Vassal Lane Upper School Reconstruction Project. The roundtable, which will be at City Hall, will start at 5:30pm (the Tobin portion will begin at 7:30). It will be televised and live-streamed, but there will be no public comment period or votes. The materials are posted on the Open Meeting Portal.

Here are some discussion points for the Tobin School portion. Also see my prior blog post comparing the 3 designs.

1. Explain the programmatic choices more fully since the size and composition of the student & adult populations are driving the design choices. How much of this space is for future growth vs current needs? What other site options were or could be considered for some of the additional programs and future expansion being proposed for this site? Who made the program decision and who can potentially change it (how was School Committee involved in this planning?) Specific questions related to the proposed size and programs:

  • How many adults would be on campus? (higher ratio of teachers required for younger and special needs/ELL students)
  • The new Human Services preschool (8 classrooms) will enroll children from all neighborhoods and without school bus service, families will be thrown into challenging traffic around the parkway at peak hours. It’s efficient for the admin but the logistics may not be feasible for many families.
  • How would an Upper School of 450 students meet the goals of the Innovation Agenda to create small school communities? This makes VLUS much larger than the other 3 Upper Schools (it’s already slightly larger than they are). How does this affect enrollment in its 3 feeder schools?
  • Has the increase in bus/car traffic throughout the day been analyzed for the new population, some with special needs (special buses/vans) and more preschoolers (drop-off and pick-up in classroom required)?
  • How would community facilities be used after regular school hours and on weekends? Which spaces are being designed for multi-purpose (adult, non-school) use?

2. Explain how the legal open space requirements will be met both under Article 97 (only 5 acres? how was that calculated?) and under the zoning for the parcel (60% open space required). The site is 9.11 acres, entirely zoned as open space.

  • How would the baseball (or softball?) and soccer field be used for non-school teams? Why shown overlapping, since field space is never enough as it is — there should be 2 concurrently usable fields. And they must be grass, not artificial turf.

3. Show a design with 4 floors on some of the buildings, placing the height on the Parkway/Armory side of the lot. We need to see a comparison and how a reduced footprint could increase usable open space. Note: the state may not allow a garage or stormwater tank to be under Article 97 open space, so these features may have to be beneath the building footprint.

4. Re-open conversation with the state about using (leasing) a portion of the Armory lot for parking. Who do we need to talk to? Could a state rep or senator help us? It could be accessed from the Vassal Lane side if they don’t want to share their curb cut on Concord. 

5. If there is going to through-traffic between Concord to Vassal, do not place it along Alpine side. The proposed driveway is nuisance for Alpine abutters, problematic for turning radius onto Vassal (25.5’ street width at that point and trees), more paving near roots of mature trees. The bike/ped connection between Fresh Pond and Concord Ave to Fern St and Danehy Park is an essential feature; cars driving though the site poses many complications.

6. Could the underground garage be expanded to reduce need for surface parking? Is the 55K sf garage on 1 level or 2? Could there be limited-access short-term parking in a portion of the garage for those who require drop-off and pick-up to be off street? Architect estimated 80 surfaces spaces would still be needed (what is that based on?). Could some loading/service be underground? Could/will the garage be designed to provide additional flood storage? If there is surface parking, can solar panels be placed on it for shade (like Newton has done?)

7. Is the stormwater storage tank part of the $250M budget? How many square feet is it (depth vs breadth). What else accounts for the big increase in cost over prior schools — what part of the budget is the soil remediation and ground water handling (slurry walls)?

8. What other resiliency elements are planned? This site is vulnerable to flooding. The decision to preserve the mature trees along Vassal and Alpine is appreciated and critical to providing shade. Other green infrastructure (rain gardens) may be needed — in Europe, parks are designed to hold flood water. Is this complex being designed as a climate resiliency center for the neighborhood as well? Are we talking with the Armory about future flood emergencies and how the 2 sites could be used together?


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    Jan Devereux
    City Councillor
    Cambridge, MA