Friday, October 17, 2008
School Building Committee interviews HMFH Architects
The School Building Committee (SBC) met on October 9 with the Cambridge firm of HMFH Architects, Inc. to determine their ability to meet the needs of Carlisle’s school building project. Hired in 2006 to write the Carlisle School Facilities Master Plan, the firm is already familiar with the project. The committee appeared to favor the choice of HMFH, pending the results of reference and site checks. The choice is also dependent on state approval to skip a formal designer selection process. The SBC would like to have the designer in place and be prepared to ask Town Meeting on January 12 for an appropriation for the schematic design for the project.
Also present at the meeting were the Board of Selectmen and a handful of Carlisle citizens. SBC Chair Lee Storrs opened the meeting to George Metzger, president of HMFH, who, along with his team presented the reasons why HMFH believes it should be the firm Carlisle chooses to design the school building project.
Laurel Wernick, who would serve as the firm’s project manager, summarized, “HMFH focuses on educational architecture. Ninety percent of our projects are just like this one. Those of us who work for HMFH do so because we are interested in creating learning environments for children.”
Lori Cowles, who had served as the HMFH associate project manager for the Facilities Master Plan in 2006, reviewed the three original options for renovation and construction that HMFH had presented to the committee. She noted that the school buildings had not changed since then.
Cowles said, “The next question is, how do you approach replacing spaces? This is an opportunity to knit the buildings together. Being in New England makes this more practicable than an open campus plan, so we presented a range of conceptual plans.”
Christy Barbee, a member and former chair of the SBC, remarked, “We have made multiple pitches to the town [about these plans]. I am somewhat frustrated to know how often these have fallen on deaf ears because all they hear is the price.” She wanted to know how HMFH would help the committee “sell” a plan to the town. Wernick answered, “We would build support by articulating to the community that the goal is to get the most educational opportunity for the dollar that you can afford. You need a sense of a shared goal that you are all working toward.” Indicating that it might behoove the town to move forward swiftly, she continued, “Construction costs . . . are flattening out; contractors are very eager, a little nervous. It may not be a bad time to take advantage of that kind of market.”
Meeting state requirements
HMFH fielded questions about Massacusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) requirements for school construction and funding. Everyone agreed that the MSBA has been vague about communicating their requirements. Metzger, nodding his head vigorously, replied, “We have three or four projects right now that are in various stages of design and construction. Everett High School, Fairhaven, two projects in Cambridge …and Hanover High School, our newest project. We have learned that dealing with MSBA is a constant process to determine cost issues and interpretation of their standards. MSBA even says they are ‘evolving.’” Asked whether MSBA is, in fact, cutting back on their funding, Metzger said that they are “backing off the reimbursement a little bit but not saying so.”
HMFH is a large firm
In response to a question about their project load, Metzger assured the committee that HMFH had no problems “keeping so many balls in the air.” He declared, “We are a 46-person firm, in business for four decades, so we have the capacity to do a number of projects at once, from large to small. We put together a different team for each project.”
“All our projects are in different stages as well,” added Wernick. “Teams are smaller for schematic design, and then we build teams over time.” Arthur Duffy, who would be the lead architect on the HMFH team for the Carlisle project, said the firm rotates its people through the projects as well. “We have a very large project, for example, finishing up in December that I’m working on, so when that wraps, I become available.”
Many goals in one project
Questions then took a turn to the specific, dealing with the Carlisle School campus. SBC member Jan Burke asked about the process of taking a site strategy and building layout through to a “built structure that will give this campus a completely new feel. It’s a tired old campus and we have a very small project that has to accomplish this.”
Wernick replied, “We’re very iterative and very interactive. We try to generate ideas for you to respond to, but we look for our committees to push back at us and critique us hard and carefully.”
She continued,“You don’t have a campus that is integrated and that works together.”Duffy agreed, “The Corey Building is a thing unto itself,” he said. “You may have to spend a lot of money making it integrate with the rest of the campus. The rest of the buildings do relate to each other in a design that I personally like.”
Other questions included requests for references and before-and-after visuals for projects at other schools, which HMFH agreed to provide. They were also asked to describe the kinds of firms with which they would subcontract: landscape architects, mechanical engineers, structural and civil engineers, food service consultants, geotech and tech consultants, cost estimators and hazardous material specialists.
Green design experience
Committee members wanted to know whether the firm had worked on any green schools. “The Capuano School in Somerville,” replied Metzger, “was a green project. Nowadays, most towns make this sort of thing an important part of their plans. Most towns want to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design initiative) equivalent. The first step is [to comply with] Mass CHPS (The Massachusetts Collaborative for High Performance Schools minimum standards) so you can get the cost coverage from the state. We then give you a menu of green studies and options.”
At this point, Storrs thanked HMFH for their presentation and for addressing the committee’s questions, and the HMFH team left the meeting. Discussion ensued about the best way to approach Town Meeting for funding for the first phase of the project. Town Administrator and SBC member Madonna McKenzie said, “The only thing you would be going to Town Meeting for right now is the schematic design. This is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Town Meeting’s appropriation for that will be the absolute ceiling of what you can pay.”
Alex Krapf, who was attending the meeting as an interested citizen, mentioned that there seems to be a “chicken and egg problem here. As a citizen, do I vote for the design funds when I don’t know yet how much the total project will cost? I would vote for design funds for a reasonable project, but not a huge project.” Storrs answered that the SBC will do a conceptual cost estimate for Town Meeting that should help with that decision. ∆
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