The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 12, 2008

High School studies steps for state building aid request


Shortly before Brenda Finn retired as superintendent of the Concord and Concord-Carlisle Regional School Districts, she attended a Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)workshop, and she shared what she had learned with the Regional School Committee (RSC) at their meeting on August 28.

The state uses several diagnostic tools as part of the process of determining a school district’s facility needs, including a Senior Study with a facility assessment and educational program review, enrollment forecast, and a district’s Statement of Interest (SOI). Since the MSBA will be looking for present enrollment numbers, square footage based on those numbers, and the maintenance record of the current building, it appeared that the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) Feasibility Study, completed in 2005, might need updating.

2005 Feasibility Study

In 2005 the CCHS Feasibility Study Committee had a charter to yield a product that could serve the communities for the next 50 years. The committee presented three options to the RSC: They found that a new high school which would meet the needs of the educational program and projected enrollment, was estimated to cost about $90 million (in 2005 dollars).

Option two, to renovate and add an addition to the existing high school would cost roughly $82 million. This number included a new gymnasium and a new auditorium and the renovation would bring the building up to current (2005) safety, accessibility and building codes. It would also include updating the electrical, mechanical, heating, plumbing, lighting and sprinkler systems. The cost also factored in the time needed to do the renovations and the addition, projected to be 48 to 54 months. (See Mosquito, “Regional School Committee hears rationale for new CCHS building,” July 29, 2005.)

The third option was simply a renovation to bring the building up to current (2005) safety, accessibility and building codes. This option did not address the overcrowding issues and lack of spaces needed for the educational program. This option was estimated to cost roughly $45 million.

Judging from what MSBA had to say in August, RSC Chair Jerry Wedge said the RSC would need to rethink the 2005 feasibility study. For instance, it recommended more square-footage than the state is advocating for schools with similar populations.

MSBA tools

One method used by the state to evaluate a school district’s facility needs is a Senior Study conducted by a MSBA staff member and two senior architects with extensive knowledge of building systems and educational programs. The study examines both the facility condition and the programmatic issues. It identifies goals and concerns of the school district, evaluates thoroughly the physical condition of the building, assesses overcrowding issues, determines the ability of the facility to support the required educational program, assesses design factors conducive to learning such as the use of natural light, examines site considerations and evaluates the school district’s routine and capital maintenance programs. Assessment criteria is based on building condition, building capacity, the building’s ability to support the required educational program and structural deficiencies that pose immediate risk to the health and safety of the occupants.

The MSBA also uses an Enrollment Forecasting tool that is available free on-line via the MSBA web site, The tool is intended to standardize enrollment projections, which will be based on a modified cohort-survival methodology. A handout from the workshop states, “The basic premise of the cohort survival method is that the past is a reasonable predictor of the future. Year-to-year, cohort survival ratios account for the net effects of factors such as in/out migration, student retention rates, new home construction, etc.” Districts will need to supply data on current year enrollments, housing permits and birth data.

Model schools

The MSBA has announced a Model School Pilot Program. The idea is to re-use the design of successful, recently constructed high schools. The MSBA website states, “Model Schools will be efficient in design and easy to maintain, will incorporate sustainable, ‘green’ design elements when possible and will be flexible in educational programming spaces while encouraging community use.”

The RSC expressed reservations about the model school idea, because the model schools chosen are built on flat ground, whereas the CCHS feasibility study had proposed a new high school on the side of a hill. The flat areas on RSD land have wetland issues. Wedge said that Wellesley had proposed a $154 million high school. “They are settling for a $110 million project [with MSBA].” They will use the Whitman-Hanson Regional High School model. Wedge wondered how that would work for CCHS. “Orientation is critical.”

The RSC discussed options on how to proceed. RSC member Peter Fischelis said, “Our focus is to address needs at the high school. How can we move forward expeditiously with a project?” The CCHS building project has been on an MSBA “Hold” list since January. The RSC agreed with Wedge, “It is key to sit down with the MSBA and get a sense of where we are.” They hope to have a meeting with the MSBA this month. Statements of Interest are due in November. Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations John Flaherty noted that the latest NESDEC data on population projections should be available by then. ∆

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