UPDATED: The estimated cost to rebuild Arlington High School was reduced to $299 million after the school building committee reviewed a dizzying list of cost considerations on Tuesday, Jan. 29. The School Committee continued the discussion Wednesday night, and the building committee again Thursday.
Since last summer, the project total has stood at $308 million. In a 11-4-1 vote, the committee agreed to the lower total after Skanska USA, the project manager, provided estimates they viewed as the most accurate to date.
Marking the three-hour meeting were searching questions aimed at trying to clear up confusions, apparent vacillation about how to proceed as well as moments of pointed frustration. Consider these specifics:
-- Jim Burrows, Skanska project manager, said cost estimates were reviewed and reconciled for eight hours Jan. 28. The process was still being completed, but he called $299 million, including $243 million in construction costs, "good numbers." Contingencies were reduced to help arrive at the lower total, he said, and stood at $11 million for construction and $14 million for design.
-- Lori Cowles, principal at project architect HMFH, led the committee through a list of costs items priced separately in an attempt to spur discussion about what may be needed -- or cut. No decisions have been made. Three on the list, labeled "SITE AMENITIES" (see box at right), are shown as "out." They are:
* Turf fields, at $1,130,264;
* VRF (an air-conditioning system using partial geothermal), $3,738,730; and
* Fabricate new Collomb facade at large courtyard, $2,466,000.
-- A spreadsheet handed out at the meeting provided information about projects cost, what is not included in the project and sample building items subject to value engineering. Read it here >>
The discussion of "site amenities" spurred one question: Who wants turf returned to the costs to be included in the $299 million? Principal Matthew Janger and Jeff Thielman, committee chairman, did.
Janger said long-term saving will offset immediate costs, adding that speedier usability following rain put the matter "high on my list of priorities." Thielman referred to groups in town pushing for turf, in part to expand field use.
Superintendent Kathleen Bodie was told that the Mass. School Building Authority will not reimburse for $1.1 million turf, but it could be part of project cost.
As to the ramp connecting the Minuteman Bikeway to the rebuilt school, listed at $2.9 million, Cowles said she thought it could "get a little less expensive."
The principal asked about $471,121 in extra costs for the amphitheater, and Cowles responded: "I think there's savings in there."
Bleacher move, overall costs
The 500 bleachers on the bikeway side of Peirce Field are to be moved next to the "home" seats and, in their place will be solar panels. Committee member Jud Pierce said he did not like the look, preferring panel on building.
The architect said the last series of items seek to repurpose existing features -- paneling in Fusco and Old Hall, stone friezes in Old Hall, a long mosaic and the "guts" of the clock in tower.
Member Dan Ruiz, an architect, suggested these adjustments in one possible scenario: $2 million for columns, a 60-percent reduction for copper ($1.1 million); fewer geothermal wells for VRF ($3.7 million); a simpler ramp to bike path design ($1 million); delete PV over parking areas ($1.4 million). He would add back the turf field ($1.1 million). That makes a subtotal of $8.1 million plus 20-percent soft costs equals $9.72 million.
At one point later in the meeting, Janger expressed frustration with Cowles about process. "We have come this far, and now we're told things are too fine-tuned to change," he said. Cowles disagreed, defending her process in a sharp way.
The tense moment passed, and the discussion turned to costs.
Member Ryan Katofsky noted that $299 million is "technically where we hoped to be, but we could push further .... What is the goal?"
A bit later, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, urging members to focus, suggested $295 million.
As to goals, Janger said the committee needed to agree on a reasonable amount to spend and how the building should look. If it's between columns or turf, he said he'd give up columns. Still, he said, "The goal is not to look like a building that looks like a shopping mall."
$299M not low enough
Sandy Pooler, the deputy town manager, said he had no particular number in mind, but that he thought $299 million was not low enough. He thought it should be below $290 million, perhaps $285 million.
Member John Cole, a veteran of the town building committee from the late 1990s, offered the quote of the night. He said he thought the AHS front "should be referential, not reverential."
Member Brian Rehrig noted the amount of energy the committee has put into the facade. affinity for facade as a whole. "We're the ones fetishizing the columns," he suggested. "Voters would think we're out of our minds spending $2 million" on restoring or reusing of the existing Collomb facade.
Beyond the total cost, committee members moved ahead to the number important to voters: What might be the amount needed is raised taxes?
Pooler said two hard numbers are needed -- the project total cost going to School Building Authority after Feb. 12 and the appropriation to be put before Town Meeting this spring. By law, the debt exclusion part of the June 11 vote need not have a specific figure, but the campaign for voters should have such a number.
The closest the committee could come last night to the numbers that voters most need to know is the estimated amount of state reimbursement, which Pooler suggested is "at most $100 million."
Whatever that number is will be subtracted from the project total -- or, at this point, about $190 million.
During public participation, at the meeting's start, two people of the five in the audience spoke.
Michael DeLisi said he was most looking forward to the discussion of cost. He said thought the $3008 million estimate would have come down before now.
"You're not going to lose my vote," he said, but he found it hard to answer questions he hears from neighbors.
A second speaker expressed concern about design, asking that it "be a building for our time and not a historic fantasy.
The cost discussions begun Jan. 29 are expected to continue through Tuesday, Feb. 5, with a final voted expected Feb. 12. After documents are submitted, a decision from the state is expected April 10.
Jan. 26, 2019: AHS rebuild committee supports refined design
Jan. 22, 2018, HMFH full presentation >>
First forum, Nov. 28, 2018: Fears about cost may divide town, but numbers face more scrutiny
Nov. 24, 2018: AHS rebuild committee reviews 3 new exterior designs, gives go-ahead to memorial effort
June 26, 2018: DESIGN CHOSEN: High school to be rebuilt, not renovated
June 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: Designer chosen for revamped Arlington High project
Oct. 4, 2017: 3 finalists chosen to design revamped Arlington High
This news summary was published Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, and updated, to correct the headline to read $299M, not $290M.
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