The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 3, 2009

LWV Forum outlines Carlisle School building plans

The League of Women Voters School Building Forum on March 26 allowed multiple town officials to present reasons for moving forward with the schematic design phase of the Carlisle School building. This is the first step in what is expected to be a $20 million project. Forum participants Selectman Doug Stevenson, School Building Committee Chair Lee Storrs, Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle, Carlisle School Committee member Bill Fink, Carlisle elementary teacher Linda Vanaria, Facilities Supervisor David Flannery and Town Treasurer Larry Barton voiced support. All indicated that acting now while the Massachusetts School Building Association (MSBA) is agreeing to fund up to 40% of the total project is both fiscally responsible and the best choice for the long-term education of Carlisle K-to-8 students.

The design phase will be presented to Town Meeting May 4 and on the ballot for Town Elections May 12 as Question 1. Both must pass for the project to move forward. The cost of this phase is $450,000, of which Carlisle expects to pay $270,000. It was stated that an agreement with MSBA would be signed immediately after the measure passes, as the state first wants to see the town’s support of the project before making a final funding commitment.

Financially sound, says Barton

Treasurer Barton summarized the financial case. If the School Building Committee (SBC) plan goes forward, MSBA would reimburse up to 40% and Carlisle would pay $12 million for a project to include a new building replacing Spalding, as well as needed repair work on other buildings. However, if the plan were to fail at Town Meeting/ Elections, repairs costing $4.5 million would still be required for the Corey, Robbins, and Wilkins Buildings. In addition, Spalding renovations to deal with leakage, safety, and other issues would cost another $6 million. None of this total of $10.5 million would be eligible for MSBA funding under this application. This avenue would not address space deficiencies identified in the state facilities audit.

With the SBC plan, Carlisle would pay only $1.5 million more for a new building that would satisfy educational needs for many years to come, said Barton. Stevenson noted the financial case is compelling enough that the Finance Committee (FinCom) voted its unanimous support, “and they’re not notorious for spending money frivolously.”

Stevenson indicated that the BOS has not yet voted, but supports “protecting the town’s investments in capital and infrastructure” and that this requires “safe and well-maintained buildings” that “reflect current educational objectives.” He expressed confidence in Town Meeting, noting “Carlisle has a long history of making prudent choices in investing in schools.”

Next steps after Town Meeting

Storrs described the next steps if the project moves ahead. After an agreement is signed with MSBA, the first phase would fund development of a schematic design and an operations project manager. The design would include a replacement for the Spalding Building, renovations to other buildings, and repurposing of some spaces. A plot plan showing location of the new building in relationship to other buildings, floor plans, and cost estimates for the next phase would all be included. The schematic design would provide the basis for the SBC to return to the town, possibly in spring 2010, for a vote to fund construction.

The new building would house kindergarten through second grade. Renovations to remaining buildings would include roof replacements, thermal pane windows, and new air handlers. These major repairs would be required whether the rest of the project moves ahead or not. Repurposing would include renovation of science labs, changing current pre-K space into an engineering area, and moving some special education services from Spalding to the current second-grade classrooms. Storrs said that MSBA and the SBC have agreed that the plan should prepare for a student population of 700.

A multi-purpose room will be part of the new building plan. It will provide handicapped-accessible band and choral space, as well as an area for small assemblies and programs. It is planned to be open for community use before 11 a.m. and evenings. The room is expected to cost about $600,000 after MSBA reimbursement. It was noted that Spalding originally included a multi-purpose room, which was later converted to classrooms. The new building would also include nine classrooms, three special education rooms, superintendent and business offices, and a break room.

Addresses educational changes

Although the school population is stable, space needs are dictated by significant changes in education since the school was built, according to Superintendent Doyle. Federal legislation requiring an appropriate education for children with disabilities has driven a need for smaller learning areas where occupational and speech and language therapy can be pursued. The Massachusetts Education Reform Act has challenged the school to provide specialized services in math and literacy to bring all students to grade level. All this requires additional small-classroom space. DOE audits have cited the Carlisle Schools for overcrowding and for holding classes in hallways.

“We need to think ahead” about what schools will require in the 21st century, said Doyle. Networking infrastructure and lab space will address technology and language requirements. Students need facility with technologies that develop rapidly, and flexibility to deal with a world in which knowledge doubles every four years. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects are being emphasized, and engineering is now part of the Massachusetts frameworks. Bilingualism and familiarity with other cultures will also be required. While teaching expands in these areas, “basic skills still remain critical,” said Doyle.

Spalding woes listed

Linda Vanaria recited a number of day-to-day problems associated with teaching in the current Spalding Building, including the need for “tarping,” or spreading plastic sheeting to prevent damage to classroom materials from roof leaks. Facilities Manager Flannery described a building completed in 1956, uninsulated, with slab construction, in which seepage, humidity and mold have been on-going problems. In the past few years challenges have included wall cracks, a broken boiler which necessitated closing school, and termites, which have been successfully eradicated. The dehumidifier is run 24-7 to prevent mold. Leaks occur as ice and snow build up on a flat part of the roof.

Spalding is made of a steel skeleton with wood framing and has no sprinkler system. The building has no toilet facilities for the handicapped. Asbestos tiles lie beneath the carpeting. The electrical system is at capacity. All of these issues were cited by the DOE and require a solution. In addition, efficiency is low and heating costs are $58,000 per year, with other costs about $80,000. Flannery estimates these costs could be reduced by $40,000 per year in a new building.

Costs to taxpayers

Barton reported that the $270,000 for the schematic plan financed at 5% interest would raise taxes only about one cent per thousand dollars in valuation, or less than $9 for the average homeowner. If the building moves forward, $12 million financed in a 20-year note at 5%, could raise taxes as much as $86 per thousand dollars valuation at the height of the repayment, or about $700 for an $800,000 home. This may be a worse case number, as it assumes no new real estate growth and an interest rate well above the 4% available today.

But given the current economic climate, John Ballantine, who has worked with the committee, thought some townspeople would ask, why now? Storrs responded that the town is “well-positioned for reimbursement” from MSBA, with nine projects ahead of us in line and 59 behind. If the town passes up this opportunity there is uncertainty over when a future application to MSBA would be approved.

Storrs also observed that “this modest request” does not commit the town to going forward with the larger plan. If the construction phase is approved, the first payments on a loan would be due in about 2015 “when the economy is on a better footing, or let’s all hope so.” Stevenson noted the Selectmen had decided the timing was right, with construction taking place when prices are low, and “the bulk of payment some number of years out.”

Audience questions ADA, technology, energy

A Davis Road resident wondered if space expansion would allow more accommodation for special needs. Doyle noted that a new program at the school has reduced the number of out-placements, and with more space, more such programs may be possible. Another parent questioned how far ADA would go. Storrs said the new building would be fully compliant and other areas upgraded, but he was not sure if every area of non-compliance could be addressed.

Moderator Ginny Lamere followed up with a question on technology. Doyle noted that all buildings will be wired for networking. The new engineering rooms would have CAD/CAM computers and an industrial area where students can work on the things they design. An example is a program that allows students to design musical instruments and then build them.

Nancy Szczesniak of Aberdeen Drive said that “computers are much more integrated” into programs at other schools. She also expressed concern that the superintendency union involves “baby steps to merging with Concord. I like the way things are now.” Fink said the union is “something we have to consider” and noted it will not greatly affect the building plan one way or another.

Stevenson said an Energy Task Force is being formed to take a look at energy improvements for all town buildings, including the new facility. He added, “Wind generation is being batted around and I think should be on the table,” for the school, providing “a wonderful educational opportunity.” Storrs noted that LEED and other green technologies will be encouraged.

Responding to a question from Ann Ballantine of Fiske Street, Storrs noted everyone in town will get a mailing from the SBC describing the proposed project, and a new website will soon have full up-to-date information.

For those unable to attend the forum, it will be broadcast on CCTV, see press release with times. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito