Friday, September 14, 2007
Carlisle School requests $3 million in design funds for new building
After putting the building project on hold two times since last year's school Master Plan was completed, the School Building Committee (SBC) believes the time has come to move forward. That is how the School Building Committee voted last week, when it again weighed when to ask for architectural design funds. The group focused on three arguments for starting the project now: the Spalding Building is deteriorating, the school is currently overcrowded, and construction costs rise each year.
At the Board of Selectmen's meeting on September 11, the SBC asked that a Fall Town Meeting consider authorizing $3 million for design funds. Selectmen listened to the proposal but deferred the request until a later date.
After the school's Master Plan in April 2006 estimated Phase 1 would cost $26-$28 million, the Selectmen asked the group to come up with different cost options. Three cost options were developed by the building committee and Superintendent Marie Doyle and outlined in public forums held in May.
The building committee's vote for Option 3, estimated to cost approximately $28 million, was nearly unanimous. The project would replace the Spalding Building with a new two- to three-story elementary building of around 60,000 square feet to be connected to either the Wilkins or Corey Buildings, or both.
Beyond replacing the rooms now in Spalding, which include the kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, the Concord Area Special Education Collaborative (CASE) classroom, and some school offices, the new building would have additional classrooms. Additional space in the new building would include four second-grade rooms, one elementary art room, one elementary music room, art and music storage rooms, and a conference room. The Building Committee believes moving these classes to a new building would help alleviate crowding on the campus by opening up more space for middle school classes in the existing buildings.
Also in the plan is a large multi-purpose room that can be used by the community outside of school hours, a new 4,000 square-foot gymnasium (Corey's main gym is approximately 8,000 square-feet), three World Language classrooms, a room configured for technology/engineering classes, a Special Education office, a staff daycare room, two Council on Aging offices, a kitchenette, and a 2,000 square-foot community center with a separate door outside the school.
SBC members discussed the reasons for their votes. Lee Storrs said Option 1, at $13 million, where the rooms in Spalding are simply replicated in a new building with little additional space, would be a waste of money. Option 2, at $18 million, which adds four second grade classrooms, and elementary art and music classrooms and storage, Storrs considered to be "bare bones", while Option 3, at $28 million was a big jump in cost. "How do we get around the perception that this costs too much?" he asked. "What if we get nothing?"
Barbee explained the charter of the Building Committee is to look at the school's long-term needs. "The school's onus is to move forward. The Selectmen have the chance to say yes or no to the project."
Don Rober thought Option 2 would have a good chance of passing with voters, while Option 3, the most costly, is better for the town.
Bill Risso also recommended the largest building project, "It's to the taxpayers' benefit to do the project once, rather than every ten years." With new housing developments in process around town, Bob Pauplis agreed the larger project is needed.
Wendell Sykes, who was re-elected to the School Committee this spring, said there is a more urgent need for the school. "We need to deal with funds for an outside facilitator, before a new building is built." A facilitator is expected to work this school year to improve relations between Superintendent Marie Doyle and the teachers who issued a no-confidence letter to the Superintendent in June.
Sykes abstained from the vote at the meeting, but later let the Building Committee know by e-mail he supports the request for design funds, preferring the original Master Plan, Phase 1 option.
Chair Christy Barbee voted to proceed with designs, also recommending Phase 1, which included more classrooms than the later Option 3 proposal. She pointed out that Option 3 project costs do not include any money to upgrade and make improvements to the other school buildings including Wilkins, built in 1963, Robbins, 1968, Corey, 1987, or the Grant/Link Building, built in 1987 with the lower floor, and completed in 1997 with the second floor.
Buildings and Grounds Supervisor David Flannery said a contractor repaired Spalding's leaking roof in two areas this summer. Dry rot was found in the circular roof decking, but no structural safety problems were discovered. While this area of the Spalding roof needs to be redesigned to prevent further leaking, for now the school will continue to patch it, he said, and the staff will have to live with leaks as they occur. Likewise, Spalding's 20 year-old heating boiler will be kept going with continued repairs, Flannery said.
No reimbursement for designs
School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman confirmed if the town goes forward with the architectural design without first getting state approval there will probably be no reimbursement from the state for the design work.
With architectural design funds expected to cost around ten percent of the project cost of around $30 million, the group is asking for $3 million to start the design phase this fall.
Don Rober pointed out that with construction inflation, which has been running close to ten percent a year, the school risks even higher costs by waiting to start. "If we wait for the MSBA, there's no telling when we will get an answer [on reimbursement]."
If the Spalding building replacement project is not granted a reimbursement by the state this winter, the school will continue to reapply for the project again each fiscal year. The school would request state reimbursement for construction funds at a later date.
After discussions with the MSBA, the Building Committee believes the state would like to see some kind of indication a town supports a building project, before it approves it. The state doesn't want to grant reimbursement, then see a city or town vote against the project, explained Sykes.
The Master Plan, completed in April 2006, recommended a $57-65 million project, in two phases over ten years. Phase 1 of the project was estimated at that time to cost $26-28 million.
The school planned to request design funds a year ago, at a special Town Meeting in the fall of 2006, but after receiving feedback from Selectmen and others in town to try to scale down the cost of the project, the Building Committee came up with three cost options. This March the building committee withdrew a request for design funds at the spring Town Meeting due to budget constraints at the school and within the town. Barbee said then, "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."
Though projections show level or decreasing school enrollments over the next few years based on a professional study completed as part of the Master Plan, the committee says it still needs to address the buildings. The school hopes to replace Spalding and to improve facilities the school now considers deficient including elementary music, world languages, science labs, and special education spaces. Elementary art, held in the auditorium stage storage area for many years, recently moved to an available classroom on the second floor of the Link Building.
Barbee asked if it makes sense to continue the School Building Committee, if the project is put on hold any longer. Depending on the town response to the building proposal, the committee could go on hold, she suggested, while a School Facilities Committee could take over building maintenance issues.
"It's a large decision," Hult told the group, "We need to think this through." He pointed out that both Concord-Carlisle High School's building project and the Carlisle project are pending. "We have to consider the ability of people to pay taxes."
He agreed the committee made the right decision in choosing the building project. "It is the recommendation you should make. It's the right thing to do for the school," he said of the group's mission. "But it needs to get passed through the town."
Town Treasurer Larry Barton said he understood the school building design process is meant to be a partnership with the state in a grant process. "What if we are later approved by the MSBA and we have to duplicate the designs with the state? What if we have a new design with the grant, then we reject the design? Will the town have to pay the state back for the design fee?"
Julia Krapf asked why community space is included in the school plan, wondering if there is a way to compare the cost of community space in the school building with placing the rooms in a separate building. While the two new Council on Aging offices proposed in the building are to help seniors, she pointed out, at the same time the building project will raise taxes for them, and for others in the town vulnerable to an increase in property taxes.
Selectmen said they plan to make a decision on the design fund request over the next few weeks.
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