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AHS design discussion turns to interior ideas, and reaction is positive

Cutaway showing proposed spine at Arlington High. / HMFH ArchtectsCutaway showing proposed spine at Arlington High. / HMFH Archtects

UPDATED, Nov. 13: Public focus about the design of a rebuilt Arlington High School has emphasized exterior features since summer -- green space near Mass. Ave. and white columns. But the project is much broader than that, as discussions have turned inside the proposed structure, and with much enthusiasm from the building committee.


More proposed views >>


In addition, significant discussion about costs is expected to get underway in earnest in December.

"Fantastic .... I want to go there," building committee member Ryan Katofsky reacted to fresh news about the interior plans.

Lori Cowles, principal at HMFH, the project architect, described proposals for the school's "spine," a central passageway between main buildings, which will have an entrance that retains the 1930s-era white columns. Committee reaction was not to the latter but to the variety of features arrayed along the spine.

Three-hour meeting: More inside than out

Cowles showed a series of slides, one portraying the "amphitheater concept." Called a threshold to outdoor space, it would be situated inside an uncovered entrance using white columns. Performing-arts classrooms may be placed there.

During the three-hour meeting Tuesday, Nov. 6, Cowles called the concept "really exciting" as well as "beautiful and respectful" to town history.

Of a theater planned along the spine, committee member Jud Pierce, formerly of the School Committee and an attorney who is an actor, said: "I really like it a lot."

One offshoot along the spine is a dramatic cafeteria/forum stairway. Two conventional flights of stairs are on each side of a wide middle way. In addition, to walking this central stair includes spots for sitting, eating lunch or watching a video.

Indeed, the interior plans create a variety of spaces for students and teachers to congregate.

"It's powerful and exciting about how the central spine is coming together," said AHS Principal Matt Janger, a committee member. "There are lots spaces where kids can come together."

The spine will use in the library what Cowles called "lightwells," unroofed areas to allow in light and air. The current library gets crowded, and other areas of the school, built in stages since 1914, are hard to supervise, he said.

Principal welcomes promise of indoor spaces

Further, a current group of students don't use the library or cafeteria to get together, so Janger said the plans show possibilities or spaces in which students feel more comfortable and can be better supervised.

"This [the central spine] is what makes this building fantastic," said committee member John Cole, an architect. "This makes it very clear from front to back where to go."

Building Committee Chair Jeff Thielman echoed Cole, saying the concept is consistent with the 21st-century educational plan for the high school.

Committee member Brian Rehrig said, "A lot I see is wonderful. I love it .... I'd like to see it cost out."

Ballfields, bicycle parking discussed

Cowles also offered glimpses of the school's athletics future -- views of ideas for baseball and softball, following a charge to make them regulation-size. "There are trade-offs," she warned. "there is only so much acreage."

One plan shows a reoriented softball field, with home plate near the current basketball court and some parts of the field covering the current court space.

Thielman summarized that the committee appeared to recommend plan No. 1 for the baseball field, but no vote was taken.

Plans call for covered parking for as many as 130 bicycles. Three lots for parking other vehicles include 90, 70 and 15 spaces.

Discussion about a potential parking structure indicated cost could be a limiting factor.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine was asked whether the town's IT department, long housed with the comptroller's office in the AHS basement, would move to the Town Yard, when that nearby space is renovated. He said talks are ongoing about that, with n issue about wiring to be resolved.

Committee member Dan Ruiz asked about considering turf fields, which is now true of the football field. Janger spoke favorably, noting turf extends sports seasons.

Length report about energy

Katofsky delivered a lengthy report from a separate committee about proposed energy targets for the new high school. It was accepted in a unanimous vote.

In an hourlong discussion, the report aims to adopt what it says is a realistic energy target of reducing energy use by 25 percent. Eversource has offered $204,234 in incentives if a new AHS meets its targets. The plan for the high school, the town's largest energy user, seeks to maximize solar power.

In response to a query about climate change, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie was told that a survey about Boston forecast 20 to 40 days of 90 degrees and higher after 2030.

Residents had two chances to comment during the meeting, at the beginning and near the end.

Feedback from public

The initial round drew six speakers.

John Leonard, a Precinct 17 Town Meeting member, wanted to know where construction vehicles will park during possibly four years of work. He raised concerns about traffic and security of materials. He suggested employing a shuttle bus to reduce traffic, placing a staging area at the skating rink.

Rachael Starks urged more time between classes than the three minutes now allotted and wanted to know how collaboration would occur in the central spine in that time. As the campus is now closed campus, she wondered how students would use outdoor space.

Leba Heigham, a Precinct 11 former School Committee member, thanked the committee for its work and for providing a tour on Nov. 5, which welcomes 87 meeting members. She said she is heartened to hear the discussion turn to education as well as aesthetics.

Chris Loreti, a former member of Town Meeting and the Redevelopment Board, said he had received no response to a series of questions he had addressed to the committee via the town's website about the fate of nonschool offices at the new high school. He said he hopes he will not have to file a public-records request.

Carl Wagner, part of Save Our Historic Arlington High School, which has been lobbying to retain the white entry columns and more green space near Mass. Ave. cited the three bodies urging preservation. [Those three are discussed in this opinion column >>] "How do you come down on the side of history?" he asked.

Sophie Bjorksten, a Schouler Court neighbor of AHS, wants to make sure the committee takes into account the feel of the neighborhood in the design process.

Elizabeth Shea, another neighbor, who did not speak, added this concern to YourArlington -- that preserving all of the front lawn may sacrifice a neighborhood feel. She is also concerned about noise and street safety.

Later in the meeting, after 8:30 p.m., resident Grant Cook told the committee that, as a former Ford employee involved with car design, he is "pretty impressed" with the design of the spine.

Next meeting Nov. 20; costs Dec. 4

The next building committee meeting is set for Tuesday, Nov. 20, with a pubic forum at Town Hall schedule for Nov. 27.

A sometimes-tangled exchanges followed about when the discussion of finances for the new school would begin to take shape. Some suggested January; Bodie recommended earlier, in the light of the Feb. 20 date to submit proposals to the Mass. School Building Authority, the state agency that controls the process.

"It is important for the public to observe us being concerned about this," Rehrig said, referring to the cost.

That is expected to occur at the Dec. 4 building commission session, when an hourlong discussion of costs is expected.

At the end of the meeting, Pierce reported he had received a text saying that Belmont had voted to pass its override seeking funds for a new high school.


Nov. 7, 2018, opinion: Let's keep working toward an AHS design compromise

Sept. 25, 2018: AHS rebuild update: Some urge more green; $308M called top cost
Sept. 5, 2018: AHS rebuild design raises questions, but process has just begun
Aug. 29: AHS rebuild approved to move on to schematic design stage
June 26, 2018: DESIGN CHOSEN: High school to be rebuilt, not renovated
June 6, 2018: AHS rebuild process moves toward one design by end of June
 Official information about the high school building project  
June 7, 2018: Official summary of June 4 meeting
April 13, 2018: Town manager clarifies costs for new AHS: It's still early
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 was published Sunday, Nov. 10, 2018, and updated Nov. 13.

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