Public weighs designs for new AHS, now estimated at $300M

DESIGNS: Link TO 22 sides, showing ideas for a new AHS | CONCEPTS REDUCED TO 4

ahs early designs 400 32918Oct. 22, 2018, designs for Arlington High School by HMFH Architects of Cambridge. Source >>

UPDATED, April 12: Plans to build a new high school came into sharper focus at the fourth of five community forums, where an audience of more than 100 learned about proposals for its design, expectations about cost and ideas for its educational vision.

The program, held at Town Hall on April 4, was sponsored by the Arlington High School Building Committee.

The audience was asked to choose from eight separate design concepts, all of which would use the current school site.

Three concepts will be presented to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)  in the next few weeks, with a final option going to the agency by the end of August. 

Cost estimates rise

Jeff Thielman, chair of the building committee, said the high school is expected to cost between $285 million and $310 million, increasing the average household tax bill an additional $762. The previous construction-cost estimate, reported first in December by YourArlington, was as high as $200 million.

Under current forecasts, work would start in the summer of 2020, and the building would be finished in 2024. A proposal to build and pay for the new school will go before voters in the spring of 2019. "We need community support," Thielman said. "We will campaign hard and educate everyone about the project."

Matthew Janger, the Arlington High School principal, outlined what some of the educational goals for the new building are while reminding the audience about the drawbacks of the current building. They include small and outmoded spaces as well as navigational challenges. In addition, in 2013, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges placed the high school on warning status for school accreditation, citing inadequate classrooms, science labs and technology infrastructure all of which, the agency said, affect the overall learning environment.

Janger said that of the 47 classrooms in the building, only 23 percent meet the requirements for class size and some have obstructed views with a post in the middle of the space. There are not enough science classrooms, he said, and only one meets the size requirements for schools. In addition, the lengthy corridors and numerous stairwells make things even more difficult. 

Principal Janger: "One of the funny things about our building is that everything is far from everything."

"One of the funny things about our building is that everything is far from everything," he said. The new building will have 60 classrooms with academic clusters that support each other, such as history and English language arts nearby. There would be space for teacher preparation where faculty can work together. 

The big overview in terms of a guiding principle for a new building, Janger said, is the idea of a central learning commons. It's like a library, he explained, where you don't have to be quiet. It would provide space for research where groups can come together and work independently or collaboratively.

"At the middle of the school is where you want this learning commons with multidisciplinary spaces," he said. "Arlington has a strong departmental system. This will make it easier for them to collaborate and build more opportunities for hands-on learning. If hallways are cramped and rooms are small, you can’t have conversations and work together and make or do big things.

Cowles breaks down concepts

Lori Cowles, of HMFH Architects of Cambridge, said four of the eight concepts are essentially new construction, with the possibility of incorporating historic elements. Four other concepts could provide what she called "swing space," where students could continue to go to school while work goes on. Thielman said modular classrooms are also being considered. 

The decision to keep the current site came after reviewing four other possible locations. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said the MSBA prefers a school site to have at least 20 acres, and none of the other sites were large enough. They are the Summer Street fields, Poets Corner, Mirak Properties and the Mugar Property off of Route 2. YourArlington first reported consideration of those sites last December

In a follow-up, YourArlington asked Chapdelaine over what period the high school debt exclusion, of successful, would be in effect. He wrote April 8: "The projections which were shared at Wednesday's forum were based on an assumption that the borrowing for the AHS project would be for 30 years. At this point in the project, these are assumptions and no actual borrowing decisions have been made." 

The fifth and last forum is scheduled to be held on Monday, June 4, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Town Hall.

To learn more about the AHS project, and to receive updates by email, visit or follow progress on Facebook >>  For specific information about the feasibility phase, read the site's blog >>

 Official information about the high school building project 
March 7, 2018: THIRD FORUM: 100 tour AHS, look into future; hear flexibility touted
Jan. 12, 2018: 125 attend as public process to launch AHS update underway
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 Tuesday, April 10, 2018. It was updated April 12, with a new link to four designs.

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