SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — If Southborough were to close one of its four schools, Neary Elementary School is the best candidate, officials say. Whether such a move would be practical, however, is still up for debate.
The K-8 Housing Study Group, which met for the first time Tuesday night, is tasked with determining all the facts related to the school closure question and presenting them to the School Committee.
Last week, Advisory Committee member Brian Shea presented a study that showed a significant projected drop in Southborough's future school population, from 1,400 students to 1,000 within the next decade. The study also showed that Southborough schools are already operating below full capacity.
Neary is considered the most viable closure because it is the only school for which the town is not receiving reimbursements from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. If any other school were closed, the state would stop sending money and likely ask for a refund with interest, Superintendent Charles Gobron said Tuesday.
Apart from saving the town money, Gobron suggested that one benefit to closing a school would be fewer transitions for students as they advance through the grades.
Closure could also free up space that the town could use for a new public safety building, Selectmen Chairman John Rooney. "Let's face it," Rooney said of the police department, "one strong wind and you lose a few bricks."
Neary, however, is home of the Northborough-Southborough School District central office, which pays rent to the town. That revenue would be lost if the office moved back to Northborough, officials said.
Another question raised was whether the town would be prepared to reopen the school later if necessary, and several officials questioned the student population projections. School Committee member Jerry Capra cited Madison Place, a 140-unit affordable housing complex approved this past summer, as evidence that more families with children may move to town.
Neary is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and would need to be brought up to code if reopened, School Committee member Marybeth Strickland said. Renovations, including removal of asbestos, could reach $8 million, she said.
"That's why the cost to reopen it is different from simply cleaning it," Strickland added.
Rooney urged the group to consider the educational impact of the decision as well as the financial impact.
"I don't think anyone would support less quality education for money savings," he said.