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Estimate for new AHS design shows $29.5M gap

Manager calls issue 'common for large projects'

The Arlington High School rebuild project, in the phase where the design is further developed and refined, has completed a revised project estimate, and it shows a $29.5 million gap between the design-development estimate and the approved project budget.

AHS project

Significant contributors include higher estimates for HVAC, mechanical utilities and site costs.

In a Nov. 22 post on the project website, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said: “Situations like this are common for large projects and are part of the process. Maintaining educational components of the facility are the highest priority and the Committee remains dedicated to building an educationally exceptional facility.”

Steps to take

To align the project with the approved budget, the committee plan to take a number of steps over the next several weeks. It is likely that a combination of value engineering and design modifications will be needed to stay within the budget.

Value engineering is the process of comparing alternatives and their associated costs, and making choices to keep the project within budget, without sacrificing educational priorities. It is an exercise that all construction projects use and it is required by the MSBA for all projects no matter how the project cost estimate compares to the budget.

In the coming weeks, the committee plan to outline the decision process for aligning the project with the approved budget. As a first step, the committee voted Nov. 19 to adopt $3.7 million in value-engineering recommendations. 

Read the full statement at ahsbuilding.org.

Following a successful debt-exclusion vote in June, the project to rebuild Arlington High School moved into the design-development phase, and project partners were busy over the summer. 

At the last next community forum, held Oct. 30, topics covered included:

• Project overview and process going forward, including the next phase of estimating and value engineering;

• HMFH Architects design update about the facade, interior and athletic fields; and

• Consigli Construction, chosen in July as construction manager, is to provide a timeline, phasing plans and student impact.

During the design development (summer 2019 to summer 2020), all aspects of the design for the new school are to be completed. Current plans are to begin prework construction next March and construction next October.

The first building is expected to open to students in January 2022, and the school fully constructed in 2024 (followed by one year of site work).

The project is to cost$290.8 million, with the state contributing $86 million. 

Globe summarize projects

In August, The Boston Globe provided a look at school-building projects in the state, under the headline "High hopes (and price tags) for new schools."

The story provided this highlight, with details following: At least 11 middle and high school projects are in full swing or nearing completion in the region, replacing, upgrading or expanding aging buildings. Another eight or more are in the full or schematic design phase.

Nearly a dozen years after the $197.5 million Newton North High School broke the state record for most expensive school, some of the latest projects put that in perspective -- Somerville High ($256 million), Lowell High School ($343 million), a combined Belmont High School and Middle School ($295 million) and Arlington High School ($290.8 million).

But at an estimated $375 million, the proposed new Waltham High School, still in the schematic-design phase, is poised to become the most expensive school ever built in the state.

The state School Building Authority is providing funding for most of the projects. In nearly all the cities and towns involved, voters also approved debt exclusions — typically 20- to 30-year property tax increases — to pay for the rest. Somerville High School and the first phase of the Belmont project are under construction. The projects in Arlington and Lowell are in the final design phase.

“Nobody will mistake any of these school buildings for the Taj Mahal. These projects are falling victim to the economy we find ourselves in,” Jack McCarthy, executive director of the School Building Authority, told The Globe.

McCarthy also said complex site issues contribute to the high costs of some projects. For example, because Somerville lacked a viable site for a new school, it had to renovate and expand on its existing site, which added years — and resulting costs — to its high school project.

Projects include Stoughton High School ($121 million); the regional Minuteman High School in Lexington ($145 million); and Billerica Memorial High School ($176 million), which also will house the town’s preschool program. All three are new construction and have opened.

Arlington’s project will provide the town with a new 409,000-square-foot school to replace the existing buildings, the earliest of which dates to 1914. The state School Building Authority is contributing up to $86 million to the project, to be done in phases and set to be completed by the start of the 2024-’25 school year.

“A new high school is sorely needed to accommodate Arlington’s increasing enrollment and address a deteriorating and outdated facility that no longer meets today’s educational needs,” Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said via e-mail in August.

Somerville, Lowell projects

The $256 million Somerville High School project is expected to be completed in time for the 2020-2021 school year.

The overhaul of Somerville’s High School — portions of which date back to 1895 — will result in a mostly new 377,406-square-foot facility designed with features to accommodate a wider range of teaching approaches. The project — funded with the help of a $120 million state grant — also will provide a new auditorium, new field house and a new turf field.

Lowell’s project, supported with $210 million in state School Building Authority funds, involves renovations to existing high school facilities and construction of a new field house and a new five-story academy for freshmen. The 620,000-square-foot school also will feature 28 science labs, a clean energy lab and a rooftop garden.

According to the School Building Committee timeline, phase one of the Lowell project is expected to begin construction in 2021, and the building is to be completed for the 2026-2027 school year.

The Belmont project, a renovation and expansion expected to be completed in 2023, will result in a 445,000-square-foot facility serving grades 7 through 12. Moving the upper middle grades to the building is part of a districtwide realignment aimed at easing overcrowding in all the schools, according to Bill Lovallo, chair of the school building committee. The state is covering $78 million of the costs.

The new school will include such features as flexible classroom spaces for interdisciplinary learning, a new auditorium, a renovated field house and a multiuse cafeteria area that includes space for people to gather before and after theatrical and athletic events.

Waltham’s proposed new 414,000-square-foot high school would be built on land the city took from the Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers by eminent domain last year. In September, City Council authorized $375 million for the project.

For more information, visit www.ahsbuilding.org or follow the project on Facebook and YouTube


June 14, 2019: A special election: AHS rebuild, override OK'd with strong support 
Feb. 20, 2019: AHS rebuild committee sends schematic design to state agency
Feb. 6, 2019: Official vote backs cost of rebuilt AHS at $291.4M 
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
June 26, 2018: DESIGN CHOSEN: High school to be rebuilt, not renovated
Oct. 4, 2017: 3 finalists chosen to design revamped Arlington High

This news announcement was published Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. 

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