Committees approve Countryside School building funding, design plan

The Newton Public Facilities Committee and the Newton Finance Committee held a public forum, approved a design plan, and approved a $74,730,950 loan for the reconstruction of the Countryside Elementary School building at their meeting Tuesday night.

“We’re moving forward and providing a really top-notch facility so that our kids, that our teachers, our staff, our faculty will have a beautiful place to be every day,” said Ward 7 Councilor-at-Large Rebecca Walker Grossman.

According to the Countryside Elementary School Building Project’s current Preferred Schematic Report (PSR), the plan comes after years of problems with the existing school building, including outdated infrastructure, accessibility issues, and a limited capacity for growing enrollment at the school. 

“The existing Countryside School is in need of replacement,” the PSR reads.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Dedham Street resident Kaitlin Spiegel expressed concern that the map’s plan to have student drop-off occur on Dedham Street would contribute to unsafe traffic patterns.

“We’ll have more aggressive drivers trying to get their spot in that, and I really strongly believe that off-site pickup and drop-off needs to be provided,” Spiegel said. “Because right now it’s just so crazy on our one-lane street with this intersection that it’s a safety nightmare.”

Alan Rao, another Dedham Street resident, said that the sloped parking entrance included in the design plan could be dangerous if icy in the winter.

“It can be a dangerous slide in the winter for those teachers or anyone to drive into that area,” Rao said.

Ward 2 Councilor Emily Norton was the only councilor to vote against both the map and the funding, citing concerns with the area’s vulnerability to flooding.

“It does not make sense to put a school in a flood zone,” Norton said. “I appreciate the new materials that we’ve received, but in general, I think that our engineers are going to do their best and our city staff are going to do their best, but Mother Nature is going to win.”

Janet Bernardo, an engineer with the Horsley Witten Group who helped conduct the study on the site, said that the proposed school would be well equipped to handle the effects of floods.

“The finished floor elevation school will be two feet higher than what the projected 100-year storm elevation is,” Bernardo said. “So it’s projected to be 112.4, and the new school will go up to 114.5, so there’s two feet extra to take that into consideration.”

As the Countryside School Project continues the planning process, Commissioner of Public Buildings Josh Morse says it will incorporate resident feedback.

“We’ve had a lot of residents who have followed the project … their number one concerns expressed from day one were about traffic and the speed of cars in the neighborhood,” Morse said. “Not directly related to the Countryside School Project, but certainly something that we will need to address as we move forward in the next phase of design.”

The Newton Beacon has partnered with The Heights, an independent, nonprofit newspaper run by Boston College students, to share some of their work here. Stories produced by The Heights have been written and edited by The Heights.