One of two small sets of stairs is pictured in the Milton Elementary School lobby. Faced with growing space issues, the district may with offices. (Photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

Milton Elementary and Middle School is cramped for space, superintendent Ann Bradshaw said, and the district is searching for solutions.

At the Herrick Ave. school, some small rooms house desks for six special education teachers and their students. Storage closets with filing cabinets and computers have turned into spaces for small group work, and Bradshaw said the situation presents a learning curve.

“If there are three small groups working in one classroom, there’s background noise and movement, and so it’s hard to be focused,” she said.

Plus, she added, with an increasing population and an already large first-grade, the district foresees a need to add a second-grade class next year. Without it, classes would be pushing 23-24 students, Bradshaw said, which contradicts the district’s own best practice. 

The solution?

“We’re going to look at freeing up one or two classroom spaces at the elementary by constructing some offices in unorthodox places,” Bradshaw said.

In the elementary school lobby, a pair of two- and three-step staircases rests on either side of the library’s double-doors. On Monday, a fleet of backpacks sat on the steps while students visited the library.

The district could replace those stairs with two small offices, Bradshaw said, creating a place for small group work. Another fix would enclose one of two breezeways to provide an office for about six teachers.

Bradshaw first raised the space issue with trustees at a Sept. 14 school board meeting. Chairwoman Lori Donna took that information to the selectboard on September 18. At the time, members were discussing new zoning regulations, which allow a 250 multi-family housing unit to be built in town.

That construction could bring an influx of students to Milton schools, Donna said. In September, Bradshaw said she spoke with former town planner Jake Hemmerick, who estimated multi-family could house about 350 total students.

Troubleshooting, Bradshaw brainstormed possible accommodations like mobile classrooms, which the district has implemented in the past.

At the Sept. 14 school board meeting, resident Lynda Battistoni starkly opposed that idea: Her children had poor experiences in Milton’s former mobile classrooms, she said. The rooms were cold in the winter, and it was a hassle for teachers to bundle kids up and transport them to the main building to reach the cafeteria and gymnasium, she added.

With that in mind, Donna said the board wanted to explore other options. Most importantly, she and Bradshaw confirmed they were opposed to turning the M4, or Checkerberry District, from a commercial to residential zone. Despite this pushback, selectboard members unanimously approved the overall regulations.

If the school district does gain 350 new students in coming years, Bradshaw calculates a $1.5 million first-year price tag for mobile classrooms. They would cost $200,000 annually, she said, and additional staff and buses would cost $2.7 million.

Another option is an estimated $2.95 million school expansion, including 18 new classrooms. Bradshaw said mobile classrooms and that expansion are not currently on the table, but the district would have to reevaluate if Milton’s population continues to grow. 

Bradshaw raised the issue again at an Oct. 30 joint meeting between school and selectboard members. She wanted to ensure the town was aware of the district’s challenges, because “we’re in a really tough place,” she said.

The elementary school is “packed to the gills,” she added, noting 12 students already attend preschool offsite. On campus, lack of parking creates yet another issue.

While Milton High School has more available space, Bradshaw said it’s not enough for a “massive move.”

In 2012, space issues on Rebecca Lander Drive — then the Milton Middle High School — moved seventh- and eighth-grade to Herrick Avenue, creating a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade middle school model. 

This fall brought considerations of moving one of two district offices from MEMS to MHS, but Bradshaw said those faculty are needed to keep “hands on deck” at Herrick Avenue, where the vast majority of the district’s students are still located.

As of October 1, the district had 193 pre-K, 672 elementary, 367 middle and 503 high school students. 

Selectman John Cushing said the district’s developing capital improvement plan is a good place to start looking for answers.

As of now, though, no plans are finalized.

“We want to get more of a sense of what the school board thinks is the best direction,” Bradshaw said.