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ESBC weighs ‘alternates’ to proposed new school budget

by | Aug 16, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

The Elementary School Building Committee will vote on a budget for the proposed new Elmwood School on Aug. 22, the same date the School Committee is expected to endorse it.

Currently, the ESBC is looking at a total cost of $158,894,578 and discussed an estimated maximum reimbursement amount from the Massachusetts School Building Authority of $46,598,079.

But the bulk of Tuesday’s more than two-hour meeting was spent looking at a series of “alternates” that would either add or subtract to the overall cost.

The ESBC opted to go along with the recommended deduction alternates, which subtracted about $600,000.

Selected changes included deleting the proposed irrigation system serving the physical education field and play field (saving $198,240); having an overflow parking lot made of stone dust or crushed gravel ($223,707); and raising the grade at the physical education field and road by about one foot ($243,292).

The latter would be accomplished by keeping 20 percent — or 7,000 to 8,000 cubic yards — of loam that otherwise would have to be hauled off the site.

The committee anticipates discussing more alternates before taking a final vote.

For example, a change to tile in some areas like classroom wings and the third floor “main spine” could decrease the cost by $144,319.

Tim Persson, the school district’s facility director, noted that he has witnessed “a lot of bubbling of materials” where less expensive materials were used for Marathon School five years ago.

Persson said he sees those areas having to be replaced in about five years.

ESBC vice chair Tiffany Ostrander said an upgrade made sense for the proposed new school because young kids “pick at things or put a foot on a wall.” A change to material that is more durable would save ultimately on replacement and maintenance, she said.

School Committee member Amanda Fargiano said that she would like to see this alternate put at the top of a list of things to “fold in” at a future time.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh asked that samples of the possible materials be brought to the next meeting to see and feel firsthand.

ESBC chair Jon Graziano asked about the consistency of appearance within the school if comprised of a mixture of materials throughout the building.

“You are traversing a threshold. … You are not stepping out of a school and into a prison,” said Jeff D’Amico, Vertex project director.

Graziano joked that ensuring the school did not look like a prison would be “a standard we want to achieve.”

Another alternate that prompted discussion involved a “green roof,” either unoccupied at a cost of $95,000 or occupied having Canadian plant species and used as an educational tool with insulation value, according to Perkins Eastman educational programmer/principal Robert Bell. The latter had a proposed cost of $244,346.

He clarified that students would not walk on the roof.

ESBC member Mike Shepard said that as someone who had grandchildren who could attend the new school, “I don’t want them on the roof.” He said that they had discussed the same thing when building Marathon School, and the proposed Elmwood replacement had enough insulation.

“We don’t need green stuff to make it warmer,” Shepard said. “We have plenty of green stuff outside and playing fields. … This seems to be an extravagant expense with no practical [value].”

Cavanaugh said that while it might be “nice to have,” she agreed it was not worth the expense.

Representatives from Vertex will return at the next meeting with more information about the kinds of piping material used in geothermal systems. Another alternate involved returning to steel at a cost of $264,320.

Another discussion centered around outdoor learning spaces. The current plans call for three — one for each grade housed at the school.

Vertex senior project manager Chris Eberly noted the cost for the spaces included things like a shade structure, benches, picnic tables and an additional surface area. The total price estimate is $40,000 apiece, or $120,000 total.

Eberly said these spaces are near the recess area and could be used by students who would want or need something other than physical activity.

Ostrander said the Elmwood faculty strongly expressed what a great opportunity these spaces would provide for students to learn outdoors.

Persson noted the outdoor learning spaces were not being created. Instead, they are taking advantage of outdoor space that exists and using it to benefit students, he said.

ESBC member Bill Flannery said that $22,000 for “raised planters for vegetable gardens” outside was something “people would have a hard time with. … It’s causing angst out there.”

He questioned who would maintain the gardens during the summer and suggested scouts or landscapers could build some raised beds as a project.

Other members talked about the garden clubs at Elmwood and Hopkins and how important they were to students.

Graziano said considering all the reductions the committee had made to “aesthetics” of the building, if the gardens gave back “ a little atmosphere” to the site, he was in favor of them.

Cavanaugh said “student learning is at stake” if outdoor learning spaces are cut or altered further. While she said planters are “nice to have,” she is more concerned about outdoor spaces in general.

Additional upcoming meetings include Aug. 23, when the ESBC will meet with the Select Board for an endorsement, and Aug. 29, when there will be a vote to approve the final schematic design submission.

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