Friday, June 8, 2007
New Carlisle School building plan discussed at forums
At public forums last week the Carlisle School outlined its most recent plans for a new building to replace the Spalding Building. Though the school will not hear if the project is approved for state reimbursement until late this year, the School Building Committee (SBC) says if it does not move forward to request design funds this fall, the project will continue to be delayed while construction costs rise each year.
Superintendent Marie Doyle gave an overview of the school's needs. Even though enrollments are declining, she said the school has been overcrowded for a decade. Elementary art classes are held in a stage storage room that has no ventilation without opening an exterior door, Doyle explained, while elementary music is in a small-sized room designed for music practice.
Band and chorus classes use the auditorium stage and they must move out when the hall is set up for theater groups and for Town Meetings. Doyle described 12 middle school special education teachers sharing one office.
The committee presented three different construction options, with different costs. Option 1 at $13 million, replicates the rooms in Spalding in a new building to include four kindergarten rooms, four first grade rooms, the CASE collaborative classroom, and the teacher lunchroom. Additional rooms in Option 1, that are not now in Spalding, are the preschool classroom, several smaller classrooms for Special Education, an Elementary Principal and Guidance suite, and a small teacher preparation room.
State guidelines specify square footage requirements for classrooms. All classrooms are planned at 1,000 square feet, the higher end of what the state recommends. This will allow space in the plans for shared small tutoring and special education rooms between classrooms, says School Building Committee Chair Christy Barbee. Each new kindergarten classroom must now contain a small bathroom, so kindergarten rooms are planned at 1,400 square feet.
Option 2, at $18 million, replaces Spalding with a new building that includes all the rooms in Option 1, plus: four second grade rooms, one elementary art room, one elementary music room, art and music storage rooms, and a conference room. This option is intended to help alleviate overcrowding in the middle school, as moving second grade classrooms, music and art frees up space in the other buildings.
Option 3, at $28 million, includes all the rooms in Options 1 and 2, plus: a large multi-purpose room that can also be used by the community outside of school hours, a new gymnasium, three World Language classrooms, a room configured for Technology/Engineering classes, another Special Education office, a staff daycare room, two Council on Aging offices, a kitchenette, and a community center with a separate door outside the school.
Option 3, the most costly, is the only option that contains a multipurpose room that can be used by the community outside of school hours. At this time the building committee is still processing input from the forums and hasn't voted to recommend one option yet.
The school would like to replace Spalding with a new building, attached to, or near the Wilkins or Corey Buildings. A connected building would help to make the campus more secure, Doyle said. Spalding, near the Castle Playground, is not connected to other buildings.
The 50 year-old Spalding received the poorest rating from the state. In a survey of school buildings last year, it was rated 4, indicating it may be a "candidate for replacement." Spalding now contains kindergarten and first grade classes, the Concord Area Special Education Collaborative (CASE) classroom, and the Superintendent and Business Manager's offices.
On the maintenance list for Spalding for the next two years are a new roof, carpeting, and interior painting. Within three years, the to-do list for Spalding includes replacing the heating boiler for the building, the air handler and duct work, replacing some doors and windows, electrical and plumbing upgrades, and structural and masonry repair. A recent estimate by School Building and Grounds Supervisor David Flannery put maintenance costs for Spalding in the next three years at approximately $1.1 million. According to the SBC presentation, the maintenance costs expected over the following seven years would be roughly $1.2 million.
Spalding recently had a termite outbreak in the teacher's lunch room and the building is being treated for termites. A few years ago there was extensive mold growth in some classrooms while the rooms were closed up over the summer. Dehumidifiers and fans are left running in the summer to prevent mold from recurring. Some wooden roof joists are rotting, and the school has allocated $225,000 to repair structural damage.
Renovation vs repair
Alternatively, in the school's Master Plan completed last year, an estimate of $4.7 million was given by HMFH architects to renovate Spalding to bring it up to current school building codes. Modern school building codes include Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for ramps, railings, bathrooms, doorways, and drinking fountains. Spalding would also require modifications to meet current fire protection and energy codes. Temporary classrooms may be needed during extensive rennovations.
It is not clear when Carlisle will receive aid from the Massachusetts School Building Assistance Bureau, though the school expects a 40% reimbursement when the project is approved. The school submitted a Statement of Interest application to the MSBA and is waiting to see if it makes the list of projects approved by the state late this year.
State school building funds for new projects are set to resume late this year, after fiscal reform and a moratorium on new funds since 2003. If Carlisle's project is not approved, the school must file a new application for reimbursement each year.
The SBC said there are already about 150 school projects waiting for MSBA funding. The state plans to distribute $500 million a year for school building construction, funded by 1 cent of the Massachusetts sales tax.
Though the school has applied to the state for reimbursement, the School Building Committee is not convinced that waiting for state funds is the best way to go. According to the school, construction costs increased by 10 percent a year in 2005 and 2006. Rising construction costs are a key factor in its decision to move ahead with the building project now.
"Will the MSBA later reimburse Carlisle for a building project that voters approve to start (before receiving state approval on the project?)," SBC member Don Rober asked. With no prior experience with the new state agency, he said the answer is not clear. "There is no history yet."
If the school does wait for state approval, he pointed out there will be continued deterioration at Spalding that requires expensive maintenance, while the building project is still faced with a current 10% a year rise in construction costs.
Former Selectman and Liveable Carlisle Community member, John Ballantine, noted that Concord-Carlisle High School's feasibility study group decided to wait for state approval before requesting funds from voters. "The high school has a critical need," said Ballantine, explaining that if it is approved by the state this year, town funds will be needed for the high school project.
CCHS was also rated a 4, the worst condition by the state. Last year the high school feasibility study group recommended building a brand-new high school at a cost estimated then at around $90 million. The group recommended a complete building replacement rather than spend nearly the same amount of money to make extensive renovations on the high school's deteriorating buildings.
Town Finance Director Larry Barton asked the SBC why the school could not hold off on requesting design funds until after the MSBA releases its list of approved building projects later this year. "I suggest if you don't know about the MSBA result, you wait until next spring to make a request for funds."
Committee Chair Christy Barbee explained the SBC wants to move forward now, rather than delay any longer. "If voters approve design funds this fall, a new building is still a minimum of three years away, in 2010," she said pointing out that by waiting, rising construction costs will continue to increase the cost of the project.
One parent pointed out the slides contained bullet items about the building plans, but much more information is needed on the project. The Master Plan the school is working with is highly conceptual, Barbee agreed, and it lacks design details for the interior of the new building. "There's no money to render what it will actually look like," she said, but with architectural design funds the school will have a completed building design.
A parent asked if there would be town input into the building configuration during the design process. Barbee said later the school will give architects a list of what needs to be included in the design and the architects will likely come up with a couple of design drafts. The building committee will invite people's input when the drafts are available.
Thornton Ash of the Finance Committee said he would like to see the cost of the core facilities needed at the school. He brought up using modular classrooms as the school population rises and removing them as enrollment declines. He agreed the school needs more details on the project. "If there is not more specificity, the school won't get the support it needs," Ash said.
Ballantine pointed out the different demographic groups in town, in particular, those with and without school-aged children. He said that it might "be a hard sell" to ask those whose children have already gone through the schools to "give back." Ballantine reminded the school about the declining enrollment projections from last year's Master Plan.
Superintendent Doyle agreed some residents are concerned about the increase in taxes from a new school building, while some are concerned about the condition of the school buildings. "The community needs to keep the dialog open with the school."
Parent Dennis McCollum said Carlisle's high property values are due in part to the excellent reputation of the school. He mentioned Carlisle's high test scores as a factor parents look at when considering buying a house in town.
Carlisle has done three school building studies since 2000. The first one, done in 2001 by HKT Architects, looked at building a second school for grades preschool to two on the Banta-Davis land off Bedford Road.
To address questions that arose from many in the town about adding a second school, a feasibility study was approved in the fall of 2001 for a further study of building sites to accommodate increasing enrollments the school was experiencing at that time.
The second study, completed in early 2003 by SMMA architects, did a more complete assessment of possible building sites, including expanding on the existing campus. It addressed what it perceived as the strong attachment of many to keeping a small-town atmosphere in Carlisle by having just one school campus, and the lower operating costs of having one school site.
The School Building Committee then recommended adding onto the Carlisle School as the best solution to overcrowding. But plans were put on hold due to the poor Massachusetts economy in 2003 and the state moratorium on funding new school building projects that went into effect that year.
The third study is the Master Plan completed last spring. In the Master Plan's first phase, HMFH architects recommended a new building, demolishing Spalding, and limited renovations to the other school buildings at a cost estimated last year of between $26 and $28 million.
After town officials were concerned about the cost estimates and the tax impact of the project, a special committee was formed to study the town's financial situation. After gathering data since last year, the Long-Term Financial Planning committee released a report in February that shows annual town operating expenses increasing at a steady rate, and projected the impact of the Carlisle and Concord-Carlisle High School projects on taxes. The report can be found at: www.carlislema.gov. Click on Long Term Financial Planning Presentation.
The SBC planned to ask for design funds this spring, but withdrew its request due to the financial report that was released as well as concerns over the school budget. Christy Barbee said at the time, "At a time when the (school) has its hands full with serious budget cuts, it was clear it would be difficult to work simultaneously on advocating for the building project."
Since then, the committee has worked to come up with different price options based on the extensive work done by the school and architects in the Master Plan. The
group is trying to address what they see as the school's educational needs in a project that attempts to moderate the potential tax impact on the town.
However, member Wendell Sykes said he is concerned over compromising building quality by making too many compromises to lower costs. He pointed out the two-story Town Hall was built with a one-zone heating system to save money, and it has no basement area for record storage.
Over the summer the group plans to continue to work with town boards and to further explain its upcoming request for design funds in the fall. The building committee says it will use input it receives from the town to prepare a Request for Proposals for the architectural design.
© 2007 The