The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 19, 2010

Proposed CCHS renovation explained

Voters heard information about the proposed renovation of the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) during a double-header forum hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) on March 11 at Town Hall. The discussion followed a presentation on the Carlisle School building project (see page 4.) The panel discussion included CCHS Facilities Master Plan Committee representatives and CCHS Superintendent Diana Rigby and was moderated by LWV member Ginny Lamere.

The CCHS Master Plan being completed this spring describes the current facilities as well as proposed improvements. At Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 10, voters will be asked for $1.3 million to fund the next step in the project, a feasibility study and schematic designs. (See “CCHS renovation might cost $108 million,” on page 1.)

Carlisle Regional School Committee member Louis Salemy said, “We have a great K through 8 school and a great high school.” But, he said, “it’s amazing what we’ve produced with schools this dilapidated.” He said the CCHS facility is “used by thousands and thousands of community members who attend performances, athletics, community education and community meetings.”

The current campus is made up of several one-story buildings, connected by corridors, including one outside corridor. There are over 74 doors to the building, he said, noting that during a recent security situation it was challenging to lock down the school. The school received a “Warning Status” from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) due to the condition of the facility (see “CCHS still accredited, still at “warning,” Mosquito, March 12.)

The enrollment at CCHS has oscillated through the years (see enrollment tables, page 6). In 1980 the enrollment stood at 1,449, before dropping to 886 in 1995. Over the past half-dozen years the enrollment has been flat and is currently 1,245. It is forecast to decline gradually for several years. However, the school population is expected to rebound longer-term, and the proposed renovation is based on a future enrollment of about 1,250.

Salemy said the rise in enrollment since the 1990s has significantly affected several areas including: “science labs, arts, special education, ADA accessibility, music, athletics and the auditorium.” He added, “The science labs are antiquated, there is often a line at the library when it is at capacity, and the sprawling nature of the buildings makes it difficult to maintain.” He said that the lack of space restricts the number of classes that can be offered and many science classes have to share the available labs. He said the Special Education out-of-district costs have risen “because there is not enough space for programs.”

Salemy said that band and chorus rehearsals have been impacted. Choral Director Deborah Smith later explained, “The whole 120-person chorus cannnot fit in the chorus room, correct, but we offer four different sections also to accomodate more students’ schedules.” She agreed that a larger rehearsal space would be helpful, “Yes, especially if it was laid out differently, more like the real risers that we use for performances. That being said, I am grateful that there is a dedicated Chorus Room, as I have taught at other places where you had to run rehearsals in the auditorium all the time (which is not ideal for listening to each other) or share a room with the other ensembles and set and re-set equipment all day.”

Salemy explained that the Facilities Master Plan Committee was formed in June 2009 and was charged with, “creating a viable plan for remedying the facility issues at CCHS.” The committee hired the architectural firm The Office of Michael Rosenfeld to prepare the Master Plan.

Salemy said he is “pleased to report the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has invited CCHS to participate” in the process for reimbursement. “The next step is the feasibility study,” he said. If approved by voters, Carlisle’s portion of the feasibility study would be $390,000, and Concord’s would be $910,000.

Carlisle architect Karla Johnson, who is on the Master Plan Committee, said she has participated in a previous CCHS study in 2003. “I’m so sorry I’m here again.” She said as a parent she sees role-modeling as the best way to show her children what is important. “What does it say when a school building is falling apart,” she said, but kids see how much money is spent on fancy shopping malls. “It sends a message I’m not comfortable with,” she added.

Rigby thanked Carlisle and the community for their education excellence. “Students achieve at very high levels,” she said. Recent changes in technology trends and accessibility “requires more than core knowledge,” she said. She urged the town to support the “learning environment.”

Cost estimates preliminary

An audience member asked if the project was going to establish a “ceiling of affordability,” similar to the $20 million the Carlisle School Building Committee established when they requested feasibility funds. “Right now it’s too early to be talking numbers,” said Salemy. He cited the unknowns with the partnership with the MSBA.

Reached later by phone Salemy said the architects gave an estimate of $108 million on March 10, which, he said “is the cost of preferred approach based on the roadmap” the committee has developed to date. He said the architects based the estimate on comparing the square footage of the project to other schools and evaluating the cost of renovations. When asked why he did not offer the estimate at the forum he replied, “Because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s almost a meaningless number.”

He said the there are three groups that will determine the final cost: the MSBA, the building committee and the voters. Some portions of the construction, such as the field house, will not qualify for MSBA reimbursement, but are “essential in doing the renovation,” he said. “We need it as a swing place for a phased renovation.” He said the project is far different than the Carlisle School project because it involves two towns, “and this is not a fix-the-boiler or fix-the-roof type of project.” He added, “It is fair to say that it is a substantial project.”

Carlisle resident Alex Krapf said he supported the project but would like to “see it in context with costs.” One issue, replied Salemy, “is that special education costs have gone up a lot because we have been unable to house students. Also, in-house energy utility costs are high.” He said the recent replacement of the Willard School resulted in a 30% savings in energy costs.

Carlisle School Committee member Bill Fink asked “when and how” the CCHS project will receive “the go ahead” for funding from the MSBA. Rigby said in the past CCHS has submitted three separate statements of interest to the MSBA, “and we were placed in hold three times,” she explained. “We are surprised and pleased to be invited to submit” a plan to the MSBA. If the feasibility funds are not approved, she said, “we go back down to the bottom of the list. That’s a real risk for us.” Salemy added, “We are surprised to be here. The MSBA is setting our timeline. We are the dog that is being walked. We could tell them to wait a year but then we’ll be back down at the bottom on their timeline.”

Why renovation vs all-new?

“If we build a new school, we will get zero from the MSBA,” Salemy said. He added that the current high school site is ideal. Rigby said, “We wanted to make sure that it is possible to have an approach to transform the buildings. Not brand new buildings, but renovations with additions.” She said it is not considered a “brand new project” by the MSBA, who accepted the project as a “repair only” project. The MSBA, said Rigby, “is not going to support a new high school in Concord-Carlisle.” Salemy added, “The goal is to have the facility last 50 years.” ∆

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