Friday, September 2, 2005
RSC outlines CCHS facilities needs for town boards
In an effort to open communication channels, the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) presented what they see as school building needs to the Selectmen and Finance Committees of both Concord and Carlisle on August 10 at the Concord Town House.
Grade schools need renovation and expansion
RSC member Michael Fitzgerald laid out conditions here in Carlisle. He said "Carlisle students now make up close to 30% of the population at Concord-Carlisle High School. It used to be in the low 20s. Facilities have not kept pace with the growing population." He went on to explain that Carlisle has one campus for kindergarten through eighth grade and that funds have been approved for a feasibility study of adding on to the campus to ease the overcrowded conditions there.
Meanwhile Concord has been rebuilding grammar schools. Alcott was finished in fall 2004. Thoreau School should be completed by spring 2006. RSC member Jerry Wedge explained that a ballot question asking for design funds for Willard failed at the polls this spring. "Our intention is to move forward on a new building . . . There are major capital expenses if we don't. Millions will need to be spent which won't solve the space problems. The Selectmen didn't support this effort [this spring]." Wedge said that the school committee needs to better educate the public and they hope to address all of the Selectmen's concerns and get their support.
NEASC cites crowding,
Two important meetings took place in early August. The first was with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which grants accreditation to schools. The NEASC completed a comprehensive report on CCHS that was issued this spring. The NEASC Deputy Director Janet Allison met with Superintendent Brenda Finn, CCHS Principal Art Dulong and a few of Concord's and Carlisle's Selectmen, Finance Committee members and Regional School Committee members. Allison said "It is not common to articulate so many facility concerns. It's hard to deliver a program of excellence [with these limitations]." The NEASC concerns include: lack of classroom and office space, bad ventilation, seating in the auditorium, poor space and lack of space for special education and guidance, overcrowding, code violations for bathrooms and ramps, lack of two-way communication between the office and classrooms and fire code violations. The science and art areas do not meet program needs. All of these concerns were also pointed out in the CCHS Feasibility Study that concluded this summer.
Finn said the NEASC expects a response by January 2006 showing what progress has been made to date. A five-year plan needs to address all concerns. The NEASC realizes that a high school is a major facility so a long-range plan of eight years could apply for program concerns. A short-term plan must address fire and safety concerns.
RSC member Becky Shannon said "We are not seen in isolation, the NEASC compares our school to every other one in New England. Our program is very good, but it is being hampered. There are problems with our facilities that need to be addressed."
New reimbursement guidelines in 2006
The second important meeting was with the Massachusetts School Building Authority Executive Director Katherine Craven. State Senator Susan Fargo and State Representative Cory Atkins attended this meeting also. Craven said there was a new process for reimbursing towns for building schools. A preliminary guideline is due in January 2006 and a final draft is due in June 2006. There will be a priority list based on three factors: health and safety issues, overcrowding, and accreditation status by the NEASC. School districts will receive a survey about facility needs in the fall which should be completed quickly and returned. The MSBA will review it and send out a team to see the school. The MSBA hopes to pre-identify candidates for the July 2006 list. Their hope is to inform towns by Town Meeting time where they stand. The MSBA wants a relationship with communities. There was discussion in the room about getting the surveys for Willard and CCHS filled out appropriately.
RSC member Michael Fitzgerald said, "The meeting was very fruitful." He was pleasantly surprised to hear that there was at least a 31% minimum reimbursement amount that could increase depending on an assessment of how well the old school was maintained. A 4% increase is given for schools that show good maintenance and an 8% increase is granted for schools with excellent maintenance.
RSC member Jan McGinn said that $500 million per year is allocated allocation for school buildings. "We'll have to see how that plays out. A big high school in a city could take a lot of those funds."
Facilities impact programs
Concord FinCom member Mark Howell said, "We need to understand the NEASC concerns. We are constrained by our building from running programs. It will eventually affect students. Our status with accreditation will erode. We need all our issues addressed to get good accreditation. We don't want to be put on probation. We will have extreme problems over ten years [to keep our accreditation in science]."
Finn agreed, "If you compare art in CCHS to the surrounding towns' art classes, you'll see differences in what other kids have the opportunity to do. You'll see it in science as well."
"Do we really need a whole new school?"
Carlisle participants listened silently as Concord folks asked many questions. One Concord FinCom member asked, "Do we really need a whole new school? Is every part of the high school obsolete?" Fitzgerald explained, "$42 million would address the program needs but it doesn't address the infrastructure. Will the buildings last another 50 years? If we want them to, it will cost $80 million. Building a new high school is more efficient and the least interruptive. There will be less footage to maintain, less roof to maintain. It improves long term savings."
Shannon added, "There are heating costs associated with our sprawling building, poor walls and a large number of exterior doors. There are inherent problems over 50 years and safety issues."
Concord Selectwoman Virginia McIntyre wanted more "digestable tax increases" and suggested building a free-standing science wing, similar to the pool complex. "I'd like to see a complete need for a whole new building."
RSC member Betsy Bilodeau verbalized her concerns as the discussion touched on renovation costs versus new construction costs, as well as quantifying annual operating costs after the school is paid for. "There are tough questions here. There are tax impacts of maintaining old buildings. Do we pay for a new roof on a building you want to tear down in five years?" Fitzgerald said that they had a workshop to figure out how to deal with short term capital projects. They are working hard to get health and safety capital items into the budget.
Many citizens thanked the school committee for holding the meeting, which they said was informative and useful.
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