The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 8, 2010

SBC weighs renovation options if funding is available

A slow economy has one upside – construction bids across the state are coming in much lower than a few years ago. On December 17 the Carlisle School Building Committee (SBC) discussed what to do if bids for the school project are lower than estimated. The Massachusetts School Building Association (MSBA) and the SBA have discussed a project for $20 million with state reimbursement at 40%. Depending on the bids, there may be room to upgrade or add in items currently not included. However, those must be specified before bid documents are drawn up to avoid later renegotiation.

The proposed schematic design had been submitted to MSBA earlier in the day. This consisted of a notebook with floor, site, elevation and other plans, along with financial information. An MSBA board meeting to vote on funding will be held January 27.

SBC Chair Lee Storrs reviewed progress with MSBA, including a meeting held December 3 in which the SBC was asked to defend various decisions regarding the project plan. The committee had been surprised to receive questions on the basic design so late in the process. In a later phone conversation Storrs said, “It hasn’t changed that much (from what was originally envisioned) and we had given regular updates. We’re pretty far along to change now.”

The MSBA questions concerned possible use of basement space, changing to a one-story plan, or moving the building to connect to Wilkins. The SBC had refuted each suggestion (see Mosquito December 11). Carlisle’s Owner’s Project Manager Sean Fennell of Daedalus reported that a week later he had had a conversation with MSBA officials who seemed to understand why the SBC had proceeded as it had, but no official feedback has been received. Storrs said a meeting is being scheduled for the middle of January between MSBA and the SBC to further discuss the scope of the plan and the budget.

Storrs then presented a list of possibilities for inclusion if funding is available. After a long discussion, a priority ranking was agreed on: add heating and ventilation digital controls, install a new curtain for the auditorium and add some computers. If there is room for other items, pavers will be substituted for pavement at entryways and a stonewall will replace Versa-Lok. Both changes would improve appearance. Farther down the list the Brick Building would be renovated, and finally, all windows replaced. Town Treasurer Larry Barton asked whether all these items are really needed and Storrs assured him that, if not included in the project, the town would be paying for most at some point in the future, but without the 40% reimbursement.

A number of items had recently been added to the project, including upgrading existing buildings with wireless infrastructure, roof insulation, Corey connection to Wilkins and the new building, renovations to science labs, HVAC unit ventilator replacement, replacement of Corey steps, wall insulation in existing buildings and a play structure for 1st and 2nd grade students. Also included is $325,000 to resolve accessibility issues. With these already-agreed-on additions, the estimated cost for the project was $19,901,500.

Bill Rizzo noted that recent energy modeling had indicated more insulation in the addition’s walls would be a cost-effective investment at $32,000, even without the 40% reimbursement. Elimination of induction units was also recommended, and would save $27,000 for a net $5,000 cost. Later it was noted that replacement of plumbing fixtures in existing buildings at $37,500 would also be added to the base, bringing the project cost to $19,943,500.

HVAC control would give flexibility

The highest priority addition, if bids allow, would be wiring and digital control points for HVAC throughout the campus. The estimate was $413,800, but Dan Clark of the town’s Energy Committee believed this bid was too high and could be brought down. The control system would provide flexibility not included in the displacement system that is currently planned.

In a later phone conversation, SBC committee member Don Rober explained that the displacement system now in the base project would pump warm air into each room at low speed, allow it to rise, and then vent it from the ceiling. While inexpensive to install and operate, the system would not allow manual temperature change. “It would be optimized with one use of the building in mind,” said Rober. A classroom that is under-utilized or shaded would therefore get cooler, while one that is crowded or on the sunny side will heat up. “It’s not flexible in any way, shape, or form,” he added. The system relies on baseboard, so bookshelves and cabinets would need to be carefully placed to avoid impeding airflow. Also, maximum efficiency requires windows that are permanently closed and sealed so that pressure remains balanced throughout the building.

Rober believes spending extra for the digital control system is worthwhile. It would allow individual classrooms to be regulated for temperature and air quality. He points to problems with underfunding HVAC. “The last thing I want to see is teachers bringing in 1,000-watt heaters,” he says, noting this could quickly burn up any anticipated savings. At the SBC meeting, David Flannery also voiced support for digital controls, noting that currently much time is required to reprogram thermostats when there is a power outage or a change in school usage, such as for parent conferences.

Auditorium, technology considered

The project scope contained $62,000 to refurbish auditorium seats and $35,000 to replace the auditorium curtain. Should those items be retained? HMFH architect Laura Wernick said that the curtains and seats are “worn, but not threadbare.” She suggested the seats be retained in the base project, and the curtain moved to the “if we have funds” list, and this suggestion was adopted. The curtain received a second-tier priority.

A gym-divider curtain at $76,000 that was part of the base project was discarded. Flannery noted, “With small classes it may not be a priority” as it was when class sizes were 100 students or more. A request to subdivide the Grant Building SPED room into three spaces was not considered because the cost would be excessive.

Currently $469,000 is included in the project for technology. This will provide the infrastructure for a wireless campus, including routers, servers, Cat 6 wiring in the new building and an upgrade of older wiring in existing buildings to Cat 5. In order to stay below the limit set by the state, some technology items had been cut from the base project list, including $170,000 in computers, software, printers and servers. These were referred to the Long-term Capital Requirements Committee, of which Rober is chair. He suggested re-inserting some part of that amount, if possible, to obtain the 40% reimbursement. Also, if funds were available, an upgrade to Cat 6 campus-wide would be considered, as this would increase capacity.

Lower priorities itemized

Wernick argued for an upgrade in the materials used for the stonewall and pathway as “extremely important to the entry appearance.” The pavers would cost an extra $55,000, although she thought there might be inexpensive alternatives. Stone instead of Versa-Lok walls are estimated to cost $200,000. These items were assigned a priority four.

Fifth priority was assigned to a rehab of the Brick Building for $78,400. It was noted that accessibility improvements to this building were not included in the base project.

Finally, sixth priority was replacing windows in the existing buildings, which would cost $491,000. Rizzo said the energy model had indicated it would be a very long time before the high cost would be recouped in energy savings, after the year 2040. However, he noted there might be other reasons to replace the windows, including the comfort of students. If not funded now, the windows might be replaced over time.

There was discussion of upgrading the emergency generator to make it capable of servicing the school as an emergency shelter at an additional cost of $104,000. Storrs said the MSBA guidelines do not allow reimbursement for non-educational purposes. Selectman Doug Stevenson said he would like to see the generator upgraded and believed the use of the school as a community shelter would “help sell the project to another constituency in town.” It was suggested that a grant be sought or a separate funding article be placed on the warrant at Town Meeting. The Selectmen will be asked to consider this.

Another wish list item that MSBA will not likely fund was the proposed elementary music room in the addition. MSBA has indicated that space guidelines do not allow for this. At the December 3 meeting the SBC had proposed eliminating the elementary music room and dividing the choral/multi-purpose room, and the MSBA seemed to welcome this suggestion. The submitted documents reflected this change. The choral/multi-purpose room is a proposed repurposing of three existing classrooms. The music room could be re-inserted if donations were received, though it was noted a change in plans would have to be finalized within two to three months to avoid delaying the whole project. The cost to fund this entirely would be $232,000.

Fennell agreed to update estimates with MSBA based on the results of the current meeting. In a phone conversation this week, Storrs reported there had been no further feedback from MSBA since the design was submitted. He said part of the problem is that “Carlisle is a tough campus” that “does not fit too neatly into their model.” The fact that the school is not being replaced and that many spaces are shared between elementary and middle school makes it hard to analyze with standard formulas. “The gym and auditorium are bigger than their funding would allow,” he says, “but there would be no point to trying to split these and use them for other purposes.” MSBA has been made aware that “these are among the few community spaces we have in town.”

“I think our conversation on December 3 (with MSBA) shed light on why we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Storrs. He expects to learn more at the meeting in mid-January about what MSBA is thinking regarding the scope of the plan. “Until then, we know very little,” he said. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito