SUSD continues talk on Helmers options

SUSD officials continue to discuss student relocation needed during two years of construction at Helmers Elementary. Bobby Block/The Signal

The superintendent and governing board for the Saugus Union School District continued the discussion Tuesday of relocation options for students during the upcoming construction at Charles Helmers Elementary School.

With significant upgrades expected for Helmers Elementary next year, school officials are holding public meetings for parent input on plans for how to address an anticipated shortage of space while the work is being completed.

SUSD Superintendent Colleen Hawkins and Nick Heinlein, assistant superintendent of business for the district, presented four overarching “tenets” for making their decision, based on safety, fiscal responsibility and the ability to create the best learning environment for students, officials said. 

While no action has been taken yet, SUSD officials are hoping the dialogue will result in guidelines the district can use to address Helmers, and any similar situations in the future. The district is looking at renovations for several campuses that could temporarily impact the available space.  

District officials also identified five possible options for where to educate the students impacted by construction at Helmers.

“Helmers is going to be the first school where we really have to dislodge students,” said Hawkins. “The tenets will help guide us when we have public meetings to gain direction.”

The board approved the tenets, and then moved into discussion for the five feasible options staff identified for Helmers.

Options one and two included adding portable classrooms to the basketball courts at the connecting public park, or to the school parking lot. Both options were deemed unsafe and did not provide a satisfactory educational environment, according to Hawkins. She added there would also be no parking spaces available for staff and administration, which would cause more traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Options three and four would bus kindergarten to second-graders, or fourth- to sixth-graders, to North Park Elementary School for the next two years. Concerns for sixth-graders spending their last year outside of Helmers’ campus were voiced by board member Laura Arrowsmith and board President Julie Olsen.

One of the issues discussed with busing the lower grades is that the only available play area at Helmers Elementary during construction would not be age-appropriate for the higher grades. Hawkins said a positive aspect to these options would be that students will have “quality classroom space, playground space, adequate lunch area and support services.”

The last option, which was identified as the most cost-effective by district officials, because it would be free, would be to involuntarily transfer 115 students in various grade levels to other schools in the district based on a random selection. 

Hawkins proposed if enough parents and students voluntarily transferred, the options of Mountainview Elementary School, West Creek Academy or Tesoro del Valle Elementary School will be available.

A community meeting is scheduled in the multipurpose building at Helmers Elementary on Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. to allow the board to discuss the relocation with parents and other community members.

The board will make a final decision based on community input and board member discussion sometime in March, according to Hawkins.

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