Barrington decides, Sowams School or Hampden Meadows?

Officials selecting which school site will be repurposed

By Josh Bickford
Posted 12/5/23

One resident said he preferred expanding and renovating Hampden Meadows School because the site offers more space and greater flexibility.

Another said Sowams School was the better option …

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Barrington decides, Sowams School or Hampden Meadows?

Officials selecting which school site will be repurposed

Posted

One resident said he preferred expanding and renovating Hampden Meadows School because the site offers more space and greater flexibility.

Another said Sowams School was the better option because there is already too much traffic on New Meadow Road and he does not want to clear-cut the woods behind Hampden Meadows School. 

A virtual meeting on Monday night, Dec. 4, offered residents an opportunity to share their thoughts about which elementary school — Sowams or Hampden Meadows — should be renovated and expanded, and which campus should be repurposed into something else altogether. 

What the schools would look like

Justin Hopkins, an associate principal at Tecton Architects, opened the meeting with a comparison of the two sites and then showed renderings of what the renovations and additions would look like at the two schools. 

Hopkins said Sowams offered more land — 18.21 acres versus 10.33 acres at Hampden Meadows — but less buildable space as a flood zone covers a large portion of the property. 

Hopkins offered an aerial view of the Sowams School property showing a two-story addition constructed on the northern part of the property where the playground is currently located. The addition would include a new “proper” gymnasium, resource rooms, breakout learning areas and new classrooms. The second floor rooms would likely play host to fourth and fifth grade classes. 

Hopkins showed a rendering of an expanded Hampden Meadows School, complete with a new gym and classrooms. The rendering was for a single-story addition and renovation, but he later provided a two-story option at HMS. 

Both construction options showed the use of the wooded area located behind Hampden Meadows School. 

Hopkins said the cost estimates and building sizes were very similar for Hampden Meadows and Sowams. One of the few differences was that there was a higher ratio of new construction at Sowams School — 46,749 square feet at Sowams versus 33,767 at Hampden Meadows. Hopkins said that is due to the sizes of the current buildings: Sowams is about 32,700 square feet while HMS is nearly 50,000 square feet. 

Residents weigh in

Leo Espindle is leaning toward Hampden Meadows School. 

The father of two said he thought about the distant future when considering which site was a better location for the renovation/addition work. Espindle said the location of the floodplain on the Sowams property was a concern and wondered what might happen over the next 30 to 40 years. He also believes that Hampden Meadows School is more centrally located than Sowams.

Kiela Daley said Sowams might be the better option for hosting a preK-5 school. She asked about traffic patterns around both schools. Daley also asked if one of the two properties would be a better fit for another purpose, possibly as athletic fields. 

David Sanchas said he liked the Sowams School site, adding that he was concerned about cutting down the trees in the woods behind Hampden Meadows School, as kids play in those woods and people walk their dogs there. Sanchas said that if officials do select Hampden Meadows, he prefers the two-story option as it does not push into the woods as much. He also said he feels like there is more traffic on New Meadow Road. 

Jamie Partridge said the existing playgrounds at Barrington elementary schools are not accessible for children in wheelchairs. She asked if the school construction will include fully-accessible playgrounds. Partridge also asked if the school designs were considering the needs of students with disabilities. 

Barrington School Committee member TJ Peck told Partridge that officials from Barrington’s Special Education Advisory Committee were sharing a presentation with the School Building Committee on Dec. 19. Peck added that Tecton’s architects were also very aware of accessibility issues and other requirements. 

Barrington School Committee Chairman Patrick McCrann said he will be inquiring about the process that will be in place during the construction to ensure that special education students’ needs are met. 

Tom Brueckner said he prefers the Hampden Meadows School site, with the two-story option but does not want to see trees taken down in the abutting woods. He said HMS is more centrally located, has better sidewalk access and will have fewer traffic issues once it becomes a neighborhood school and not for all students town-wide. Brueckner also asked if Sowams could be repurposed to host pre-kindergarten students. 

Neile Hartman said her comments were less about personal preference and geared more toward how to make an informed decision about the two sites. She spoke about identifying specific criteria and establishing order of importance. Hartman acknowledged that many of the comparable factors offered little separation between the two properties. 

McCrann agreed, stating that he wished there was a more glaring difference between the two sites. 

Rob Starts said officials needed to take a closer look at how the two schools’ existing spaces compare when it comes to group learning and other features. Swarts also said Sowams School helps slow traffic along Sowams Road, which is an otherwise very straight road. That school zone, he said, is a benefit to public safety. 

Zach Green asked if faculty and staff levels would be impacted differently depending on the sites. 

Barrington Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore said there would be no change in the number of teachers, although the service personnel numbers could be impacted. 

Elsie Seber spoke about the speed of vehicle traffic on Sowams Road and also asked if the new playground space would be a bit more enclosed. She said the current playgrounds at the two schools are open to main roads. 

Next up

Members of the Barrington School Committee will meet on Thursday, Dec. 7, to decide which school will be renovated and expanded, and which property will be repurposed. 

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