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Natick seeks future use for now-closed Johnson Elementary School

Natick seeks future use for now-closed Johnson Elementary School
Natick seeks future use for now-closed Johnson Elementary School

NATICK After the Harold H. Johnson School was officially closed one year earlier than originally planned Those responsible must now decide on the future use of the property.

Johnson School, which closed on the last day of the 2023-24 school year, has been gradually closing over several years, with no new kindergarten classes added since the 2020-21 school year. Until that point, the school housed children in kindergarten through fourth grade.

The original plan was to keep the school open until next year, when the last class of fourth graders would graduate. However, because many parents accepted the option of sending their children to other elementary schools in the city as a precautionary measure, the number of students remaining at Johnson was so small that the school committee voted last September to make the most recently completed school year the last for Johnson.

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“We had a new principal (interim superintendent Bella Wong) and she worked with teachers and families about how many would stay next year,” said school board member Shai Fuxman. “It became clear from her conversations that too few families would stay next year to have a productive school year.”

Last school year, Johnson had only 51 students; had the school remained open next year, officials said, it could have only 20. The remaining students will be transferred to either Lilja, Memorial or Brown elementary schools, depending on where they live. Teachers who worked at Johnson have also been transferred to those schools as needed.

“Part of the discussion is not just financial, but also educational,” Fuxman said. “It’s interesting to go to a school where there are other kids, energy and interaction, and the question was, can we have that when there are so few students left?”

The decision to close Johnson was made in part to facilitate plans to build a new Memorial Elementary School building that would provide more space for students. Natick submitted plans to the Massachusetts School Building Authority earlier this year, requesting approval to begin studying a renovation plan for the Johnson building.

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Future of the Johnson school building still uncertain

Because Johnson closed a year earlier than planned, City Manager Jamie Errickson said the city is still figuring out what to do with the property.

“What we really need to do over the next few months is do a lot of outreach to find out what the needs are and what the community wants to see there,” he said.

In May, city officials held a hearing with members of the public to discuss possible future uses of the property. Information about such future uses will be posted on a city website designed to inform citizens about the uses.

The building does not meet all ADA requirements and would likely need renovations if its use were to change. Ideas presented during the hearing included using the building as office or storage space, at least as a temporary placeholder for a future use.

Suggestions from the public include converting the site, which is zoned for residential use and is in a residential area off South Main Street, into affordable housing or single-family homes. Several people who spoke during the May meeting said they believe the property should at least remain a public facility, such as a recreational area.

The building will be used as home for a YMCA camp this summer. Camp is normally held in the old East School building on Oak Street, but this building is having its windows replaced.

Errickson said the playground in front of Johnson School will remain open to the public.

“We intend to keep the outdoor areas active,” he said. “They’re already part of our maintenance program, so we just want to keep it going as long as possible.”

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