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Demolition to start on Pierce School this summer after town committees sign off on building plan

A rendering of the new Pierce School.
April 3, 2024

Work is set to begin this summer on the several-year process of building a new Pierce School after key town committees signed off on various pieces of the project Tuesday evening.

Most crucially, the town’s Building Commission voted unanimously to approve a so-called “early release” package, which will allow the general contractor, Consigli Construction, to move forward with demolition of the existing school starting in early July.

It’s a major milestone for the $212 million school rebuilding project, funding for which was narrowly approved by voters in a town election last May.

In separate actions, three town boards – the Park and Recreation Commission, Conservation Commission, and Select Board – voted on Tuesday night to move forward with a plan to build geothermal wells under the baseball field across from the Pierce. The wells will provide heating and cooling to the new school.

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Supporters of building a new Pierce have been arguing for years that the current K-8 school, located near Brookline Village and built in the 1970s with “open-concept” architecture, is designed in a way that harms student learning and does not meet the needs of many students with disabilities.

The current building suffers from water damage, with birds and bats finding their way in through screenless windows and electrical wiring that wasn’t designed with computers in mind. At the time of last year’s debt exclusion vote, the school’s enrollment of 705 was about 200 more children than the building was designed to hold, according to principal Jamie Yadoff, and at this year’s enrollment of 668, it remains overcrowded.

“I know how important this is to Brookline and our residents, and it really is a measure of our commitment to equity of access that the town is funding this project,” Yadoff told the Building Commission Tuesday night.

Despite voting in approval, several commission members said that they remained uneasy about the fact that their decision means that the old school will be demolished before the town and t contractors have obtained all the permits they need to build a new one. A final cost for the project has also not been confirmed.

“We’re taking a vote to demolish a functioning school,” said commission member George Cole. “We’re assuming the risk of not having permits in hand … and not having a final cost for the building.”

Starting next year, Pierce students in kindergarten through grade 5 will relocate to the old Lincoln School on Boyltson Street, and students in grades 6-8 will move to a building on Fisher Hill.

A packed house in the Select Board hearing room on Tuesday as students, parents and supporters of the Pierce School project showed up to advocate for approving a plan regarding geothermal wells. Photo courtesy of Jeff Rudolph

Geothermal wells move forward, too

The 80 geothermal wells, each 600 feet deep, would be built on land currently used by the town as a park, which means the town and contractors must obtain various state approvals.

Tuesday’s votes were a key step toward getting a sign-off from the state, but several steps remain. Town Meeting must approve the plan by a two-thirds vote, and the state legislature and state environmental regulators also need to okay it..

“The process is complex and hard,” Town Counsel Joseph Callanan told the Select Board.

Despite the complexity, town officials said they are confident of achieving those approvals by the end of this summer.

Staff at the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs are “aware of it, Callahan said. “They support the idea. They like the idea of net-zero solutions to comply with their climate goals…This is just one more step in the many steps that we’ve taken to get the Pierce School project built.”

The approvals passed by the town committees on Tuesday include a requirement that the park and playground only be out of commission for 12 months while construction on the wells is going on.

Under the current timeline for the Pierce project, demolition would be complete by January 2025, the geothermal wells would be installed in 2026, and the new building would be complete by the summer of 2027.