Watson's student population would triple under proposed expansion

The Community Facilities Advisory Committe for Hastings Public Schools is proposing adding 32,430 square feet to Watson Elementary School. Thirteen new classrooms would allow Watson to offer three sections of each elementary grade. The building would receive a new commons area, new offices, anew front entrance and a separate gym.

Watson Elementary would see the largest influx of new students under a proposed plan to improve the elementary system at Hastings Public Schools.

In October, Superintendent Craig Kautz unveiled the tentative recommendations for the future of the elementary buildings by a Community Facilities Advisory Committee.

Under the committee’s proposal, Hawthorne, Lincoln and Watson elementary buildings would be expanded, while Alcott and Longfellow would both be expanded and renovated.

Meanwhile, Morton Elementary would be closed with the option of turning it into a preschool hub for the district.

Watson Elementary currently has the smallest enrollment of the district’s elementary schools with only one section of each grade. Under the proposal, Watson would become a three-section school through the addition of 13 classrooms.

“I don’t know that the square footage necessarily triples, but the number of students they would serve would. And that’s a considerable change,” Kautz said. “It’s not only a change for the district, but a change for the community.”

In addition to a significant increase in students, the building also would receive a new commons area, new offices, a new front entrance and a separate gymnasium, all estimated to cost under $4 million.

Kautz said Watson Elementary is on one of the largest elementary sites in the district at about 12 acres, lending itself to expansion. The largest is Hawthorne at 13 acres, while Longfellow is the smallest at about 2.6 acres.

Also with the district wanting to keep with that three-section per building concept, adding on to Watson for that purpose makes sense.

“For good or bad, the best sites in the whole district are Watson, Hawthorne and Lincoln with Hawthorne actually being the largest site,” Kautz said.

According to the proposal, most of the addition to the building would be made to the south of the existing structure.

Ten classrooms, a commons area and the new offices would be placed in that area.

Another three classrooms, likely those that would serve kindergarten students, would be built on the east side of the building.

A new gymnasium would be build to the west of the current entrance to the building. This addition would allow for the building to have a separate gymnasium and a separate cafeteria.

Kautz said the architect has been working to create a design that would allow for community members to have access to the gymnasium and cafeteria in most schools without having access to classrooms, the office and the rest of the building.

“There’s always a need for gym and meeting space,” he said. “Now this school would have a community center, which is separate from the rest, so community members could use this portion of the building without using the rest.”

New visitor parking and a new staging area for vehicles would be constructed south of the new addition and north of Westchester Street.

As currently proposed, Watson’s construction would be completed first to allow for students from Alcott and/or Longfellow to meet there while their buildings are under construction.

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