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125 attend as public process to launch AHS update underway

Manager estimates $250 million cost would be tops for town

Tiago Gomes, left, and Quinn Connell, members of the AHS Sustainability Club, talk with Matthew Janger, school principal.Tiago Gomes, left, and Quinn Connell, members of the AHS Sustainability Club, talk at the kickoff with Matthew Janger, school principal. / Marjorie Howard photo

UPDATED, Jan. 21: An audience of community members, parents, educators and students talked about their dreams for a new high school at the first in a series of forums on Jan. 10. Among their wishes? A building that supports interdisciplinary learning, is environmentally sustainable, serves as a center for community functions and perhaps even has a roof garden.

Whatever the details, said Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, a new high school is expected to be the most expensive building the town has ever constructed. Chapdelaine told the audience of more than 125 people at Town Hall that new high schools have become costly because of construction costs and the complexities of the projects. A new Somerville High School is expected to cost $250 million.

Visioning outreach underway

Globe, Jan. 19: Renovate or rebuild?

The forum began community involvement in a feasibility study, which will determine whether to renovate, repair or replace Arlington High School. School Committee Chairman Jeff Thielman told the audience, “Arlington High School serves 1,360 students and is one of the top-ranked high schools in the state and one of the best in the country. Our goal is to build a building worthy of our students and staff.”

He spoke in front of an aerial view of the high school projected on a screen behind him that showed the dates of additions to the high school over the years. The original structure was built in 1914, with additions made in piecemeal fashion in 1938, 1961, 1964 and the last in 1980. The school has received a warning accreditation status from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, citing inadequate classrooms, science labs and technology infrastructure.

'Most critical part of design process'

Lori Cowles, of the Cambridge architectural firm HMFH, which will perform the feasibility study, said this part of planning is “the earliest and most critical part of the design process. Essentially, we are gathering information about the building and deciding the best way to move forward. We are asking what makes sense for the school educationally and what makes sense for  the town.

The feasibility study will help answer those questions. We will be looking at how do we come to an agreement with the Massachusetts School Building Authority about the kind of school we should build, how much it will cost, how much the state will contribute and how long will it take to build.”

The study, she said, would take about 10 months, with the next step a preliminary design program. “The engineers and I have been traipsing around the high school [looking] into closets people didn’t even know were there. We are looking at the physical condition, the mechanicals, the lights, the educational use. How are these spaces functioning? What is hindering learning?”

She said the building is large enough at 400,000 square feet but that a major portion is purely circulation, with numerous corridors and stairs as well as lower levels without windows, limiting educational space.

The MBSA is asking the town to look at other sites than the current one as well as well as deciding whether the school should be renovated, repaired or totally rebuilt. Read about alternative sites here >>

”It’s not a complete surprise what we’ll come up with, but we need to look at  the implications of those three scenarios,” Cowles said.

Learn from Thompson project?

To a question about what the town learned from its experience with the Thompson School, which opened in 2013 but was found to be too small, school Superintendent Kathie Bodie said, “We learned a lot. We went with a lot of data, enrollment and growth projections and the MSBA does its own as well.”

Added Thielman, “We did bring up the Thompson and went to the MSBA and said it should be larger than they said, and in meeting about the high school, we reminded them of that fact. It gave them pause, and I think it did impact the discussion.”

Audience members, sitting in small groups around as many as 20 tables were asked to talk about their likes and dislikes about the school as well as their concerns and their ideas about what opportunities are afforded with a new school.  Many people said they liked the location and some of the historic features of the current building, such as the Elgin marbles donated by the Class of 1901 as well as the high ceilings. Among the problems cited were bathrooms that are  inaccessible to public spaces and the confusion of a building with 1.5 miles of hallway and 33 entrances.

Main ideas, concerns from public

Each group was asked to cite its main ideas and concerns.  Among them were:

-- How to minimize disruption for students while work is taking place;

-- Making sure the new high school maintains community involvement and that the facility is open to the town as a whole;

-- Creating a building that is flexible since learning in the future will probably become more collaborative;

-- Making sure the town retains and attracts teachers during the construction project;

-- Having outdoor learning spaces; and

-- Building athletic spaces, including a field house big enough to incorporate a track.

The architect was asked whether the MSBA ever objects to a community’s preferred option and what happens if it does. Cowles said the goal for the board is to have a successful project “so they are with us every step of the way. We’ll be working with them just as we’re working with you, and they’re on board with us. They have the same goals you have; they are looking to achieve something educationally and fiscally responsible.”

To applause, Chapdelaine suggested using the process as a teaching opportunity by incorporating it into the curriculum, so that students would learn something about project management, construction and design.

Town Treasurer Dean Carmen said, “Whatever the final outcome, it’s imperative to have a community that comes together that everyone agrees is a townwide need and that the plan doesn’t create division in the community but unifies the town.”

Other forums are scheduled for Feb. 7, March 5 and April 4. All will be at Town Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. 

 Official information about the high school building project 
Dec. 20, 2017: Could new AHS be built elsewhere in town? 4 sites suggested
Dec. 12, 2017: AHS Building Committee prepares to focus on its visions'
Nov. 11, 2017: Cost, timeline, design for a changed Arlington High emerges
Oct. 24, 2017: Designer chosen for revamped Arlington High project
Oct. 4, 2017: 3 finalists chosen to design revamped Arlington High
May 25, 2016: State says Arlington High School rebuild can advance
Feb. 15, 2017: Arlington High School rebuild OK'd for next stage: Is it feasible? 
State Building Authority process >> 

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Marjorie Howard was published Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, and updated Jan. 21, to add a link.

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