Friday, July 29, 2005
Regional School Committee hears rationale for new CCHS building
After seven and a half months of study, evaluation, and soul-searching, the CCHS Feasibility Study Committee told the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) on July 26 that rather than renovate and add on to the existing high school, a brand new high school facility should be built. The estimates, in today's dollars, are $90 million for new construction and $82 million for a renovation and addition.
Previous feasibility studies done in 2000 and 2002 each pegged renovations at a much lower cost. The 2000 study recommended adding eight to ten classrooms only, without touching the rest of the building. The 2002 study recommended adding a new science wing where the I-building is, along with other additions. The present feasibility study is much more comprehensive. The committee had a charter to "yield a product that can serve the communities well for the next 50 years."
The school committee has been talking about needs of the high school over a long period of time. RSC member Betsy Bilodeau commented on the results of the previous studies saying, "We weren't sure we'd be making a good investment with additions to the school." That is why the present Feasibility Study Committee was formed. Bilodeau continued, "Do we really want to be in continual renovation? It might be the hour to change the California footprint [of the current CCHS building]." CCHS is a mostly one-story campus made up of separate buildings that are connected with breezeways and many doors. Additions would add to the sprawl. Bilodeau worried, "Do we ask taxpayers for a continual renovation to ease the tax burden or ask them for a new building?"
The Feasibility Committee includes a variety of people. CCHS Principal Art Dulong, a member of the committee, commented, "If you look at the make-up of the committee, it didn't come with an agenda. The discussions were open and honest. We came to a decision thoughtfully." Member Karen Sabatino said, "It wasn't a foregone conclusion [to choose new construction]. We looked at many options." Selectmen, Regional School Committee members, a teacher, the Concord Police Chief and several citizens-at-large make up the Feasibility Study Committee.
Cost of renovation + addition
The Feasibility Committee wanted to be sure people understood how the renovation cost got to $82 million. The price includes a new gymnasium and a new auditorium. It brings the building up to current safety, accessibility and building codes and updates the communication, electrical, heating, plumbing, lighting and sprinkler systems. Also, there is a substantial cost involved with the long duration needed to do the renovations and the addition, projected at 48 to 54 months. One of those costs is the need for modular classrooms. Retrofitting generally costs more than new construction. It takes longer and dollars are not spent as cost-effectively.
New construction could be completed in 36 months. A new building would be more energy efficient and would address all the program, arts and athletic needs, along with added parking spaces and fields. Capability for expansion should the student population exceed the estimate would be addressed. Dulong stressed that the proposed high school was not extravagant or excessive. The $90 million estimate is based on a school that meets state standards for square footage of science labs, classrooms, teacher areas and storage. "We're not adding extra classrooms to sit around empty. We'll try to meet standards, make it "green" and efficient. There's nothing grand about it."
NEASC criticizes current facility
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges has established standards and grants accreditation to schools for all levels of education. The Feasibility Committee wants the public to be aware that the NEASC Report, which came out this spring, also noted the shortcomings of the existing building. The NEASC Report states: "The Concord Carlisle High School physical plant does not support the full implementation of the mission and expectations for student learning. Although it is clean, it is overcrowded to the point where there are not enough rooms or staff members to meet student demands Furthermore, facility needs result in a failure to comply with existing fire codes and current ADA requirements, the absence of an intercom system in the case of emergencies, a heating and ventilation system in need of a complete overhaul or replacement, an electrical system that cannot be updated in all areas of the physical plant, plumbing that needs replacement, an auditorium in dire need of upgrading, and the lack of adequate storage, among other needs. Although there have been two feasibility studies regarding retrofitting the existing building and adding an addition, the current consensus of opinion is that trying to apply band-aides to the existing structure will not meet the future needs of the high school students in the communities of Concord and Carlisle."
The NEASC Report has a number of recommendations that the Regional School Committee will have to address. Some of these recommendations include providing a physical plant that supports the needs of all students, implementing a two-way communication system throughout the entire building, correcting ventilation problems in the art and science areas and complying with all federal, state, and local fire and safety standards. Each of these recommendations has to be addressed and a plan will need to be laid out for corrective action.
Feasibility Committee members pointed out that new construction would address all the NEASC concerns and present greater opportunities than renovating the current building. Superintendent Brenda Finn said, "Our science and art areas are much more dependent on the physical facilities. Our students' peers in other communities have more opportunities." It was noted that the science rooms look exactly like they did when the building was opened forty-five years ago. RSC and Feasibility member Michael Fitzgerald said, "We need to provide students with the appropriate education."
A lengthy discussion ensued on what steps will be taken next. RSC Chair Pat Sinnott laid out a short term plan. "On August 4 we will meet with [the state] to discuss in detail the latest and greatest reimbursement [guidelines for schools]. The following week we will meet with the NEASC and have a school committee retreat. On August 10 we'll have a discussion with other boards from both towns. We'll move forward on the high school contingent on reimbursement."
Fitzgerald pointed out that Carlisle is contemplating a new K-8 school for $25 to $30 million. Stay tuned!
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