Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community

On Wednesday, September 10, the Devotion School Building Committee presented options to renovate and expand the school at a public hearing held in the Devotion School auditorium. There was little enthusiasm for any of the three design options that the architects showed, and there was outrage from some quarters.

Options 1-2-3: Option 1 enlarges current building outlines, replacing the north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. A new north wing would extend about 100 feet eastward down Stedman St. taking over a quadrant of the field in back of the school and making it impossible to maintain a baseball diamond.

Option 2 demolishes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the central building, three stories toward Babcock St. and four stories toward Stedman St. Option 3 is similar to Option 2, but the new building becomes five stories toward Stedman St. It moves back and disconnects from the central building, taking over almost the entire school field in back.

Those three options are all unsatisfactory. Options 2 and 3 make hardly any sense, costing large sums of money to get only a little new educational value, while destroying open space. Option 1 is now misconfigured, failing to make productive use of existing buildings and failing to conserve key outdoor spaces. We can do better.


Option 0: The survey of existing conditions indicates that the current south wing, opened in 1955, and the current north wing, opened in 1976, are reasonable candidates for renovation. All segments of the community are vehement about conserving outdoor spaces, currently outlined by those buildings.

An obvious way to expand classroom space, conserve outdoor space and get effective reuse is to renovate and extend rather than to demolish and replace buildings. That is what we are doing now at Lawrence School and what has been planned at Driscoll School.

Option 0” has zero impact on key outdoor areas, full provision for new classroom space and effective reuse of building space. It is clearly possible to add around 37,000 square feet of gross floor area, more than the current design goal for capacity expansion.

Option 0” would renovate all current buildings and (1) extend the ground, first and second floors of the north wing west over the front plaza, (2) extend the first and second floors of the north wing east over the rear walk and (3) extend the first and second floors of the south wing east over the rear blacktop area.

Addition (1) 21,000 sf
Addition (2)  4,000 sf
Addition (3) 12,000 sf
Total added 37,000 sf

There need be no intrusions into fields in back of the school or into playground and community green spaces in front of the school. The Devotion House and the fronts of the altered north and south wings of Devotion School would all be set back around 80 ft from the Harvard St. sidewalk, maintaining the streetscape.

The best alternative at this point is to take Option 1, as advertised, and adjust it during “schematic design” by renovating and extending rather than demolishing and replacing the north and south wings of the school.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 14, 2014

Option 0, Devotion School with three additions (aerial photo), September 14, 2014

Options 1-2-3, Devotion School Building Committee (drawings), September 10, 2014

Survey of existing conditions, Devotion School Preliminary Design Program, Vol. 1 (12 MB), March, 2014, see pp. 112-128

3 thoughts on “Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community

  1. George Abbott White

    Thanks for the review, commentary, and suggestions!

    Like you, I’m for preserving as much “green space”* as possible, and always supporting renovation – where possible – in part because so much “new” school construction is not only ugly but costly, poorly or half-done and, ultimately, self-destructing (See Newton North # 2, coming apart almost the year it was built and replacing half century buildings that had structural a well as visual integrity. School reformer Debbie Meier spoke there a few years ago, remarked to the audience it looked like a “prison.”). Keeping the Kennedy connection via the 1913 front made sense to me in many ways, not least how Devotion teachers have woven it into the curriculum.

    My Q: Would renovation be more “expensive” than the various construction costs put forward in 1-2-3? IF it were actually equal or less expensive – with gains you suggest – an Override would be more possible, in part, because it could be touted as, well, frugal, and good value for money.

    Best, George White – TMM 9

    * I wish some of Cathy Offenburg’s proposed landscaping was available, and I also wish that, like the Public Garden and our new little park just south of Route 9, the green space were controlled and directed via either natural means – a low hedge – or a low metal fence, like the Public Garden and the new park. What do you think?

  2. Perry Stoll

    I too appreciate the reporting you are doing.

    But I’m afraid that this entire discussion in Town around the Devotion renovation has an air of “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” about it.

    Does anyone think that spending $110M dollars to renovate Devotion and add 5 classrooms is a prudent use of scare funds? To make the math really basic: $110M / 5 new classrooms yields $22M/ new classroom.

    The issue we have in Town is a shortage of classroom stock, not a crisis of bad classroom stock. Yes, we need to renovate some buildings. But more urgently we need *more classrooms*. Let’s not conflate the two. And let’s not try to be extra clever and do fiscally imprudent 2-fer, i.e. renovate and add just enough classrooms to smear the label “expansion” on it.

    Building a new school:
    a) avoid disrupting the Devotion school for years (i.e. no outdoor playspace for 3-4 years during construction as the Devotion School Building Committee learned in May).
    b) would cost less, yes, even with land acquisition costs; and
    c) would solve the actual problem we have (i.e. a shortage of classrooms).
    d) provide plenty of space to continue with METCO, Materials Fee, and BEEP programs.

    A new school could ~30 classrooms for less then $110M dollars, be done faster and with less disruption.

    As for where, which always comes up as the bogeyman, the answer is Parson’s Field, yes, the one currently owned by NorthEastern. Yes, BSPACE asked them if they’d mind selling it and they said no. Thank goodness a municipality has the power of eminent domain (*cough* newton – and

    All it takes is a little leadership, courage, and vision by our Town elected officials.

  3. Ulrich Mok

    This is in reply to Mr. White’s comment:
    “so much “new” school construction is not only ugly but costly, poorly or half-done and, ultimately, self-destructing (See Newton North # 2, coming apart almost the year it was built and replacing half century buildings that had structural a well as visual integrity. ”

    There is a plethora of ‘half century buildings’ to be visited in the Boston area and it takes some imagination to claim that they have exceptional structural and visual integrity. It is all a matter of taste of course and the use of plenty of concrete might be appealing to some. Take a stroll around Pierce School to find the usefulness of such structures. I would claim that 100+ year old buildings are often in better condition.

    On the other hand, the MSBA site ( show modern school building designs that are economic, airy and functional. At a lower price point as well, I might add…

    Why you would not build an elementary school for $50 Million, but rather spend almost double is the question that should be answered. As it has been pointed out, the Devotion expansion is not only to add additional classrooms, but to relieve current overcrowding. This could be better achieved with a new school rather than adding a fifth section to Devotion.

    In the light of probably even larger Kindergarten numbers in the future we can’t dance around this solution anymore. The in-house expansions won’t do anymore if we have to handle a 1000 more students.

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