The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 17, 2009

New committee tackles CCHS facilities needs

The first meeting, July 9, of the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) Facilities Master Plan Committee provided a chance for the 13 committee members present to get acquainted and begin brainstorming approaches to their task. Should they update the Master Plan for a new building put forward in 2005? Plan for upgrades and replacement without changing the existing footprint? Examine state “big box” standardized blueprints for schools? Look at what other high schools are building? Consider modular components? Step outside the box and find new ways to support 21st century teaching? After considering each method of attack, the committee determined the next steps are to 1) develop a list of educational requirements and 2) draft a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an architect with creative and cost-effective school design experience.

Carlisle’s Mike Fitzgerald was unanimously elected chair of the new committee. He advised the members to proceed under the assumption that no state funding will be available, although the school may continue to submit applications. He and Jerry Wedge of Concord had both served on the committee that drafted the 2005 report, and Fitzgerald noted that since the end of a moratorium on new applications for funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), CCHS has gone through two application rounds in 2006 and 2007, without success. “MSBA doesn’t say no,” explained Superintendent Diana Rigby. “They string along and string along.” She has been advised that, compared to Boston city schools that are in really dire shape, the state funding agency does not see CCHS as a high priority.

One big project or several small ones?

The building plan proposed in 2005 would now cost over $100 million, an amount the Concord and Carlisle communities are unlikely to finance alone. “Lesson learned, we can’t have an all or nothing plan,” said Fitzgerald. “We need to start attacking it piece by piece.” He suggested a series of projects of $20 or $30 million. High priority would be new science, performing arts and athletic facilities. Instead of one plan that would solve all problems, a series of smaller plans would be spread over seven to ten years.

Wedge agreed, “We need a more flexible plan to start attacking deficiencies.” He suggested that the 2005 study, which proposed a new building on the hill behind the school, be updated with revised cost figures. Financing the plan would now be “markedly more achievable because we don’t have to do it all at once” but he proposed that a complete building project could also be put before the towns along with any smaller initiative, “The towns might surprise us.” Fitzgerald noted that an alternative plan of upgrading the existing facility had been shown to provide inconsequential savings over rebuilding entirely.

Doug Stevenson, acting Board of Selectmen (BOS) representative from Carlisle, suggested considering the approach of rebuilding or upgrading one area at a time. “It’s easy to fund, and you don’t close the school.” Fitzgerald noted that this would sacrifice the benefits of a more concentrated campus, including energy savings. “I’m not a strong advocate, but it’s something we should at least consider,” Stevenson replied.

Rigby made a case for dramatically changing the layout of the high school. She cited the need for a campus “heart,” for concentrated academic areas that encourage collaborative learning and for energy efficiencies and sustainable maintenance not possible with the current floor plan. “Project-based learning doesn’t happen with a row of classrooms,” she added. Science teacher Brian Miller agreed, “There are days I never leave the S building, and have no opportunity to talk with an English teacher.”

Model school approach not favored

The MSBA has advised using a model school plan to save costs. This is a standard set of blueprints that are relatively generic across schools. Rigby advised against that approach, indicating the standard plan provides a facility “smaller than the school we have today.” Principal Peter Badalament characterized the generic school as having an unwelcoming “big box” or “correctional facility feel.” Natick and Ashland are two towns that have implemented model schools.

Will state support any project?

Carlisle’s Louis Salemy asked if MSBA might be interested in helping out with a more bite-sized plan. Fitzgerald pointed to current MSBA funding of elementary schools in both Concord and Carlisle, and suggested the agency feels it has done enough. “There isn’t a great likelihood they’ll start giving [more] money to two of the most affluent towns in the state.” No additional funds are being siphoned to school buildings through the federal stimulus plan.

But Wedge believed a $20 million project might open “a much different conversation” with MSBA than the $100 million one the school has been pursuing. He noted that grants and private funding might also be part of the plan. “There are pockets of resources in the communities,” he said, and surmised that private citizens or foundations could be attracted to help fund a new science or performing arts building. Energy Star grants and modular units might also be considered as part of a cost-sensitive plan.

Elise Woodward of the Concord BOS suggested developing a concept first, then worrying about how to implement it. “Let’s zoom out a little bit and come up with a new approach. Then we can figure out how to pay for it.” She said the question to be asked is, “Academically, why do we need this?” But Stevenson cautioned, “I don’t think we can ignore the money and dream big dreams.” Woodward said it was not her intent to ignore funding, but “maybe there’s a really innovative approach and tradeoffs we should be exploring.”

She then suggested visiting the Finance Committees of both towns to ask, “How much investment in the high school could Carlisle bear and Concord bear?” Salemy said, “I think there’s incredible support for the high school.” Woodward amended that, “I’d say widespread support, but an equal measure of financial concern.”

Next steps

It was agreed that the next meeting will begin with a tour of the high school to review the needs and get updated on what has been addressed since the 2005 plan. Fitzgerald suggested asking faculty and support staff to point out what is working and what is not. After the tour the group will discuss the RFP to hire an architect. It was noted that $250,000 of the $750,000 approved at Concord and Carlisle Town Meetings this spring will be used for this. Tthe goal is to “ink” a contract within two months of issuing the RFP. It is likely a state-approved architect will be used, in case an opportunity for MSBA funding is later pursued.

A Concord resident arose at the end of the meeting to offer an opinion that the committee should “talk about the [high school] campus as a community asset . . . [that] should benefit the whole town.” Rigby agreed that the high school should be “a flagship building” for the community. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito