Friday, July 1, 2005
CCHS Feasibility Committee recommends new construction
After much discussion the Concord-Carlisle High School Feasibility Study Committee agreed that construction of a new school building was their first choice to solve the problems of overcrowding, inadequate spaces for academic, athletic and performing arts programs, and an aging building which does not meet present codes and has increasing maintenance needs.
The committee spent the meeting defining pros and cons for the renovation and addition option and the new construction option. As the cons list for the renovation and addition option grew and pros for the new construction filled several blackboards, it became obvious to everyone in the room what direction should be taken.
Disadvantages of renovation
One of the biggest drawbacks to the renovation and addition option is the length of time teachers and students would have to endure their building being under construction. The estimated time to complete the renovation and addition project is 48 to 54 months. Some students would spend their whole high school careers in a building under renovation. This length of disruption weighed heavily on committee members. New construction is estimated at three years and would not disrupt classes. Principal Art Dulong pointed out, "[That difference is] a year and a half of instruction in time."
Another drawback to renovating is the extra cost involved, such as the modular classrooms and temporary moving expenses. "You spend money on things that don't get you anything in the long run," said John Flaherty, business manager of CCHS. Committee member and Concord Selectman Judy Terry said, "It costs more to retrofit." A renovated high school building would have a larger footprint than the current building. The added sprawl would not improve interior circulation and it would add to the time it takes for students to get from class to class. Also, it would be less energy efficient than a new building.
$10 million less
The advantages are that the renovated building would be up to code, safety issues would be addressed, space needed for educational, athletic and arts programs would be added. This option, costing roughly $80 million, is cheaper by about $10 million, compared to new construction. Also, there would be an extra gymnasium. Terry pointed out "The project could be divided up into smaller chunks." Although this might be better from a finance point of view, rising construction costs would be detrimental.
Concord Police Chief Len Wetherbee brought up the case of the Concord Police Station. "If we had done it right the first time, it would have been cheaperI worry that a whole generation [of students] would have a school under renovation, not just a small setIf you did it [the renovations] in sections, what happens if the code changes?"
Dulong had other concerns. "It's a financial decision for the town, but for myself, the NEASC [New England Association of Schools and Colleges which accredits schools] expects a report in the winter with a plan that addresses all the safety issues brought up in its report [completed this spring]." He explained, "We have a provisional accreditation and we could lose that if there is not a plan in place to address the safety concerns."
Advantages of a new building
The list of pros for a new building, besides less disruption, include: lower operating costs, lower maintenance costs in the short-term, a state-of-the-art building maximizing sustainable design potential and growth in the future, better isolation of public spaces, better energy efficiency due to design, better walls, better windows and fewer doors, more parking and more fields. An extra softball field and two multi-purpose fields would be created where the present building is after it is demolished. There would be 200 more parking spaces. All safety and communication concerns plus educational, athletic and arts needs would be incorporated in a cohesive design.
Mark Howell of the Concord Finance Committee, who attended the meeting, asked "Why can't we just add 30% more space?" Howell has just joined the Concord FinCom and has not attended many CCHS Feasibility Study Committee meetings. The committee realized Howell was the voice of the community, not necessarily informed on all the research they had done over the last six months. They explained that it would cost $40 million plus to bring the high school building up to code and address the safety, systems and communication issues, but that figure did not include adding the much-needed space for educational programs. The estimate with the addition included is almost $80 million. Howell thought it was clear how to choose between the $80 million renovation and addition compared to the new construction.
The issue of state reimbursement also came up. Carlisle Selectman Tim Hult, also on the Feasibility Study Committee, said that State Representative Cory Atkins told him, "It's not a question of whether you will get reimbursement, just what it is. It's going to be less than before." Hult continued, "Cory and [State Senator] Susan [Fargo] really need to keep hearing 'what is the formula?'"
Members state their positions
When it came time for each committee member to vote, everyone had something to say.
• Nancy McJennett, chair of the committee, said "I am very torn. I wanted to vote for the addition and renovation, but must vote for new construction with the list [we have created of pros and cons.]"
• Molly Battle, sophomore on the committee, voted for new construction "Because the disruption would be too much and we would get a lot more for our dollars."
• Judy Terry said "My only concern with new construction is about how the town will accept it. Concord is not a town for being extravagant. I think the best value for our dollars is a new school."
• CCHS Superintendent Brenda Finn commented, "If we are looking for a long term, enduring investment, that's new construction. Presently, [the building] lacks coherence." John Flaherty said "There's a better return on your dollars with new construction. You can't get back the cost of the modulars [classrooms]. Segments of the older building will need major repair sooner."
• CCHS science teacher Cricket McCaffrey-Clark added, "You get a better bang for your buck and the community will get much more use out of it."
• Ken Hoffman said, "I regret that we didn't come up with a renovation/addition option that was half the price. We need to convince people we looked at that. The real issue is we gathered all the facts and new construction is the right answer."
• Art Dulong felt everyone had good points before him. He added, "The critical thing is that new construction is less disruptive. New would be better."
• Jerry Wedge had regrets, "I'm sorry we don't have a $65 million scheme to bring to the town. It doesn't exist."
• Tim Hult agreed, "I thought we would come out with a $65 million renovation/ addition. [New construction] will serve our communities for 35 to 50 years. We need to have vision. If we don't have that, we will stay in the circumstance we are in now, incremental upgrades, that are never totally right. A quality facility which will allow us to compete with our neighbors academically and athletically is the way to go."
• Suresh Bhatia said that renovations were his bread and butter and yet he still had to choose new construction.
• Len Wetherbee said, "The difference in cost of what you missed is larger than the dollars here. A new school could be a centerpiece of the community."
The committee will present their findings and recommendations to the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee on July 26.
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