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Official vote backs cost of rebuilt AHS at $291.4M

Committee backs new lights, keeping payroll at school; next meeting Tuesday

Latest HMFH design of AHS front supported Jan. 22.Latest HMFH design of AHS front supported Jan. 22. Watch excerpts of the Feb. 5 meeting on ACMi >>

UPDATED, Feb. 12: The Arlington Building Committee, at the end of a four-hour meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5, voted unanimously to send to the state the latest estimate to rebuild the school -- $291.4 million.

The official vote took place after a series of straw votes a week earlier supporting $291.7 million. That total was reduced from $299 million. The general estimate since last summer had been $308 million.

Two committee votes kept the overall total from falling below $290 million -- decisions to keep the school payroll office in the new school and to install lights on reconfigured athletics fields, an addition of $1.3 million. The committee has postponed its next meeting until 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, from Feb. 12, because of the weather.

The state School Building Authority requires that an officially voted number be submitted Feb. 6 with the schematic design for approval.

Balancing educationally related needs with fearing to shortchange the future, committee fell short of meeting a challenge issued by Allan Tosti to keep the total under $290 million.

Tosti urges number under $290M

During public participation, the longtime Finance Committee chairman, said: "See of you can get it to $289.99" million. This is "how it appears to taxpayers." He said losing the vote in June would be a "disaster." He urged the committee to keep looking at ways to keep costs down.

Link to all items the committee discussed in late January >>

Also addressing the committee was Rob Spiegel, head of human resources for the schools, who described how payroll and benefits work together now. He said he found it "hard to imagine" the functions as separate. He was referring to moving the school payroll office to Town Hall as a cost-saving measure.

Later, Superintendent Kathy Bodie was direct: "We're not willing to let payroll go."

Lori Cowles, a principal at HMFH, the architect, and Bodie plan to review over the next week plans to change how the office is laid out in a rebuilt AHS.

The amount that would have been saved by moving to Town Hall is listed at $804,372 in a spreadsheet showing straw votes from Jan. 29. The committee voted 9-9 on the proposed move that night, leading to a discussion between Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine and Bodie.

Lights for revamped sports fields

In another key vote Feb. 5, the committee voted, 11-4-1, to support adding lights to revamped sports field. Part of the impetus was looking down the road; part was potential revenue.

Against the $1.3 million cost, Sandy Pooler, the deputy town manager, caution against deferring the expense when it might have to be paid later.

Are the light integral to sports at AHS? Committee member Francis Callahan asked that question to AHS Principal Matt Janger, who called it "a no-brainer."

Committee Chair Jeff Thielman said the School Committee had taken no position on the matter, but noted that discussions have begun about starting the school day later. That would mean a later ending time and would have an impact on sports play.

Chapdelaine said he thought "every available hour" would be used for the fields.

Member Ryan Katofsky asked how much revenue field use by nonschool groups might be raised. Peirce Field now draws $45,000 a year.

Cowles memo on fields

In a related matter, Cowles wrote in a memo about the newly configured softball and baseball fields: "We have reviewed the proposed artificial turf layout, which accommodates softball with a practice field overlay and baseball with a practice field overlay.

"Neither overlay overlap with the pitcher’s area/mound. For baseball a portable pitcher’s mound may be used if preferred. All aspects of the softball and baseball field can be/would be artificial turf, it is just of a different color at the infield and/or around the bases. The exact layout and material selection will occur in the later design phases, but what is proposed 'works' and is what the new Winchester fields consist of.

"The existing Peirce practice field is 160’x300’. The proposed practice overlay at the baseball field is 160’x330’. The proposed practice overlay at the softball field is 160’x360’."

Thielman concluded that AHS "will have substantially more field space" than it did previously, and Janger concurred.

Melissa Greene, an associate at HMFH, described the latest iteration of the exterior design for AHS, updated from the schematic unveiled Jan. 22. She displayed a "working model" on a screen, an image she was able to rotate and zoom in on for better views of all sides of the proposed building.

Comments from officials, commitee members

During a continuing discussion of value engineers, the committee heard member Kirsi Allison-Ampe, the School Committee chairwoman, say that she had asked as many as five elected official opinions for their views of the rebuild project to date. All felt much more concerned that the school be built to last 50 years, one the town can be proud of, she said. The officials were not named.

Before considering official votes for the straw one taken Jan. 29, Thielman asked: "What number do we want to get to?" Some members offered overall opinions, not numbers.

"We found a lot of affordable money," member Kate Loosian said. "We did not make reductions that will affect operations." She said she saw her mission as trying to contribute the best to the town the best for the lowest cost.

To one member who hoped for further cuts, saying the project finances had "slush," Chapdelaine called the use of the word "an insult to this committee."

Member Dan Ruiz said: "We're making a difference." He pointed to the $17 million cost reduction and hoped that would also translate into a lower tax increase.

Member Kent Werst wanted to know where money raised for the project via bonds will end up if it is saved.

Pooler said that if projects costs turned out to be less than expected, the town would borrow less money and pass along a smaller debt service to taxpayers. The debt exclusion, to be voted in June, will list no specific amount, per state law.

Skanska said to probe details

Member John Cole asked Jim Burrowes, representing of Skanska, the project manager, whether the company's cost estimator has factored in all surfaces shown in the latest design image. "Skanksa does dive into those details -- yes," Burrowes said.

"It's important to get price right," Janger said. "If we trim down to the bone and we have not figured out the skeleton, then I'm concerned."

After discussion of items for which they had questions, members then voted officially. Many of the votes for individual issues were unanimous; some were not.

At the end of four hours, under new business, Callahan expressed concern about the lack of time members have to review new documents -- some were received late that afternoon -- as well as discussions that have occurred involving top officials and not shared in a timely way.

Town/school news release

Thielman said in a Feb. 6 late-afternoon news release: “I am excited about the design concept we have chosen as the future school for our young people. This design is cost-effective, sustainable and student-centered and new buildings will be available for use as early as 2022. This has been a collaborative process and we are grateful for the community’s engagement so far.”

In July 2018, at the end of the project's feasibility phase, the preliminary estimate for the project was $308 million. Additional design work, site analysis, and decisions to move several town offices currently housed in the high school (IT, facilities, comptroller) to other town buildings, took place during the subsequent schematic-design phase. 

After three meetings focused on the budget, as well as input from the school administration, School Committee and community, the building committee further reduced the scope of the project. This resulted in the 5.5-percent decrease from the original estimate. 

In 2013, the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC) placed the high school on warning for accreditation, citing inadequate classrooms, science labs, and technology infrastructure, which affect the overall learning environment for the students. In 2015, the district was accepted into the MSBA grant program to help fund a future school.

For the past two years, the AHS Building Committee has worked with Skanska USA, HMFH Architects, school administrators and the community to determine the educational needs of the school and the design that best meets those needs. Earlier this year, the building committee selected a 415,000-square-foot all-new construction design concept with a design enrollment of 1,755 students in grades nione through 12.

The building committee considered numerous factors when deciding which design concept to use for the future high school, including cost, educational fit, layout, sustainability, construction timeline, renovation of original buildings, disruption to students and community feedback.

The MSBA Board of Directors is expected to review and vote on Arlington’s schematic design in mid-April. Assuming MSBA’s acceptance of the design, Arlington will have 120 days to secure local funding for the project through a debt exclusion -- a temporary increase in taxes to pay for the 30-year debt to pay for a new school. A townwide debt-exclusion vote is planned for June

Assuming the June townwide debt exclusion vote is successful, along with Town Meeting approval, the project will move into the design-development phase this summer. Construction could begin as early as July 2020 with the first building open to students in 2022 and potential completion of construction in 2024.

Feb. 1, 2019: Unofficial votes put estimated cost to rebuild AHS at $291.7M

Jan. 30, 2019: AHS Building Committee supports new total cost: $299M
Jan. 26, 2019: AHS rebuild committee supports refined design
Jan. 22, 2018, HMFH full presentation >>
Jan. 19, 2019: Board weighs where to site prekindergarten, district offices in AHS rebuild
Jan. 15, 2019: Second AHS rebuild forum draws estimated 200 -- 25 with questions 
First forum, Nov. 28, 2018: Fears about cost may divide town, but numbers face more scrutiny
Dec. 5, 2018: AHS rebuild committee directs architect to work with tradition
Nov. 24, 2018: AHS rebuild committee reviews 3 new exterior designs, gives go-ahead to memorial effort
Nov. 10, 2018: AHS design discussion turns to interior ideas, and reaction is positive
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: 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 announcement was published Thursday, Feb. 5, 2019, and updated  to a full summary, adding a news release Feb. 6. It was updated again Feb.11, to add an ACMi link, and Feb. 12, to add a postponement.

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