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Elmwood replacement project update: Community involvement ‘critical’ as final decision nears; construction costs soar

by | Dec 20, 2022 | Education, Featured: News, News

During a presentation at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, members of the Elementary School Building Committee stressed the need for community involvement over the next few weeks as the committee closes in on a recommendation for the site of a replacement for Elmwood School.

They also explained that inflation and other factors are contributing to a huge increase in building costs as compared to Marathon School, which was completed in 2018 at a cost of $43 million [Editor’s note: Corrected from original statement of 47.1 million]. Residents then approved a four-classroom addition at a cost of about $4 million.

While the cost for Marathon School was about $425 per square foot, Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC) chair Jon Graziano shared, the town’s engineering consultant estimates the cost for a new building to be around $700 per square foot by the time ground is broken — which is anticipated to be in early 2025, if everything goes according to plan.

Add in the fact that this school will be bigger than Marathon due to the ongoing enrollment spike, and taxpayers should anticipate a big number when details are finalized.

The town will receive assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, estimated to be in the neighborhood of 25 percent of the construction costs.

Graziano said January would be “critical for community engagement” before the committee settles on a plan — including the location and grade configuration — on Feb. 13. The plan then will be presented to the School Committee on Feb. 16 and the Select Board on Feb. 28.

Graziano anticipates a Special Town Meeting to be called for next November for residents to make the ultimate determination.

There will be two community forums in January when residents can ask questions and offer opinions — during the day on Jan. 12 [Note date change from original post] at the Senior Center, and in the evening on Jan. 24 at Hopkinton High School (times have not yet been finalized).

“Everybody needs to pay a lot of attention in January because there’s going to be a lot of information coming out, a lot of meetings, a lot of discussions,” Graziano said.

While the discussions continue, Graziano, committee member Mike Shepard, Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh and Schools Finance Director Susan Rothermich heard from Select Board members who expressed concerns about the overcrowding at all the schools and how it can be remedied without continuing to bring major projects before taxpayers.

One option is to build a school with three grades (2-4) on the former Todaro property on Hayden Rowe Street, just south of Marathon School.

Having an elementary school with three grades would allow for Hopkins School to become a Grade 5-6 school. With Grade 6 being removed from the middle school, it then could share space with the high school — potentially avoiding the need to add classrooms at either upper-level school as enrollment numbers continues to soar.

Meanwhile, no matter what happens with the Elmwood project, Cavanaugh indicated Hopkins School will need expansion, as the current building no longer is big enough to accommodate two grades of students.

The Select Board also asked about the strain on traffic along Hayden Rowe Street if that site is selected.

Shepard said he initially was not a big fan of the Hayden Rowe site, but he came around after realizing that there would be advantages, most notably a more efficient bus schedule due to all of the schools being in the same area.

“The engineering firms that we’re working with, they know that the traffic is our major concern,” he said. “They’re going to see what potential solutions there are.”

Other options include either renovating and expanding the current Elmwood building or constructing a new school on the same site on Elm Street.

Graziano said the MSBA enrollment prediction for 10 years down the road is slightly higher than what the town’s numbers indicate — the opposite of what occurred when Marathon School was being planned. The design will be based on a two-grade total of 785 students and a three-grade projection of 1,195 students — which shows an increase of well over 100 students per grade from the current totals.

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