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New school name likely to be environment-related

by | Mar 22, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

The School Committee on Thursday reached a consensus to narrow down its name choices for the new elementary school to town- and site-related geographic/natural environment alternatives.

A decision was postponed until member Adam Munroe could be present.

Like other board members, Lori Nickerson said it would be too difficult to judge between the numerous people put forth as suggestions.

“I don’t feel qualified to dissect between one and another,” she said, adding there are “fantastic reasons” for all the individuals.

Vice chair Amanda Fargiano spoke about a suggestion to keep the Elmwood name. “It feels like we’re getting a new community of three grades with a new identity,” she said. As a result, she feels a new name adds to that fresh start.

Board members ultimately centered around names related to the Charles River. Member Susan Stephenson found Head of the Charles River to be too cumbersome, while Nickerson pointed out there is another Charles River School in Dover. The latter received 161 votes in a town survey.

Another suggestion put forth is Charlesview, which received 104 votes.

Other top vote getters were discussed, including Whitehall, with members noting that Lake Whitehall is located on the other side of town. Hayden Rowe, they said, may cause confusion because other schools are located on that street.

With a consensus achieved about Charles River-related names, the board will discuss the matter at a future meeting when all members are present to vote.

Hopkins School on agenda again

Representatives from construction manager Commodore Builders were present to talk about the Hopkins School renovation and addition project along with Jeff D’Amico, vice president of Vertex, and Dan Colli, project manager for Perkins Eastman.

Contract manager Ricky Sughrue noted the site would be accessed by Route 85 (via Interstate 495) to minimize construction vehicles on Main Street.

D’Amico said the construction managers “understand the critical aspects of keeping the facility running” while planning outdoor work like the replacement of the blacktop area, maintaining parking, providing green space and putting in geothermal wells.

The goal is to complete the overall project by the September 2026 school opening.

Colli showed revised renderings, including different patterns and colors to “harmonize with the existing building.” The modulars there and the modulars expected to eventually be moved from Elmwood School would serve as “bookends” to the facility.

Solar panels are located on the south/west sides, and Colli said there is a possibility for more on the east roof and the entirety of the gym area.

D’Amico said the estimated price for the construction phase (as of March 2024) is $49.5 million to $50.5 million. The overall project estimate is $52.5 million to $53.5 million.

He said this was not the final value for the May 2024 Town Meeting vote, however, because his staff is “narrowing in on the numbers.”

Like with the Elmwood project, D’Amico said, they would make choices to drive the numbers down.

The same team working from Perkins Eastman and Vertex are handling the Hopkins project and are familiar with the community’s financial constraints, he said.

He said the estimate is up from $46.7 million last November for several reasons, including higher construction costs, full fire alarm upgrade, change to the generator, electrical service, moisture mitigation, acoustical treatment, an increase in builders’ insurance costs and more.

“Going up $3 million is never good,” D’Amico said, adding that the following steps could be taken to lower the numbers: reduction of five geothermal wells; test pits to verify limits of ledge removal; deeper dive by construction manager on phasing and logistics; reduction in site work; removal of outdoor classroom/shade structure; reuse more of existing piping system; seeking builder risk insurance costs and more.

He said the potential fiscal year 2024 ask is $49.6 million. Reimbursement from MassSave and the Inflation Reduction Act is estimated at $1.3 million to $2 million.

Chair Nancy Cavanaugh said she had “overall cost concerns,” noting she wanted to bring a number to Town Meeting that voters can support. The alternatives to not moving forward with the project are “not good for students or the district.”

During discussion about the generator needs, Assistant Superintendent Susan Rothermich said Hopkins is the only school that has one that powers the whole building. However, it would tax it too much to go to the new green equipment and kitchen (in the addition), Colli said.

Rothermich said there is $1.6 million in debt that could be reauthorized to this project, but it would have to be done by Town Meeting vote. “Town Meeting does this regularly, and it is not an unusual process,” she said.

Fargiano said the district has a good track record of having projects come in under budget, with the Marathon School addition as one example.

Hybrid community forums on the Hopkins project will be held April 3 and April 30.

Weapons policy accepted

Following a discussion on the district’s weapons policy at the last meeting, Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh came forward with revisions that eliminated the allowance of knives 2.5 inches or smaller.

At the same time, the policy proposed allowances for religious artifacts, (i.e. kirpans). She noted that kirpans are long, curved, dull blades worn under clothing and sheathed by students baptized as Sikhs.

The blades can be no larger than 3 inches, Carol Cavanaugh said, and there is an agreement between Sikh families and schools to recognize this religious practice.

Nancy Cavanaugh said feedback came from the Sikh community, represented at the meeting, that was helpful. One individual from that community explained the importance of the kirpan, which he said was an article of faith that “shows a commitment to fight tyranny” and is “very well understood” in some parts of the world.

Bullying policy reviewed

In other business, the superintendent said a subcommittee did its biannual review of the bullying policy and found it heavily used a specific form to report incidents. A change proposed would allow these matters to be reported by phone, email and in person.

Guidance was taken from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Another aspect of the change is that it must be made clear the incident is recorded on PowerSchool, whether or not a finding of bullying is determined. The superintendent said that documentation would assist in recognizing patterns of behavior over time.

“If [something is reported] in first, third and fifth grades, you realize little things could become [bullying],” Carol Cavanaugh said.

Another change proposed would require coaches to have training. The superintendent said K-12 bullying education curriculum also would be revised.

Fargiano asked for clarification on who could see the PowerSchool information. Carol Cavanaugh replied that administrators, not teachers, would have access, as would students and parents.

She said it could affect a student’s opportunity to be named to the National Honor Society, for example.

Fargiano said that made her “uneasy,” because a kid who made mistakes in younger years but had turned behavior around could be impacted.

“I would not want [teachers] to have preconceived notions of kids based on accusations from years before,” she said.

Nickerson said she understood that point of view but also why DESE would want patterns of behavior documented so districts could look out for problems.

“It’s like a whistleblower at a company,” Nickerson said. “If you are not tracking [bullying reports], how are you protecting students?”

Nancy Cavanaugh asked what, if any, tracking is being done to identify students who are victims.

The superintendent was advised to find clarification as to who sees PowerSchool and how many years alleged bullying incidents stay on students’ records. The committee will review the policy again at a future meeting.

2 Comments

  1. Concerned Resident

    Back in September the School Committee approved an updated FY24 Capital plan which included an estimate of $43M for the Hopkins renovation. Then on January 18th the SC approved the FY25 Capital plan which includes over $46M for the Hopkins project. Now we see a presentation by Vertex that shows the cost has ballooned to $53.4M. An additional $1.5M for moving the modular classrooms from Elmwood will be on top of that cost. So a total of nearly Fifty-five Million Dollars. Note that Vertex, the project manager for Hopkins, is also the PM for both the Elmwood and Marathon projects, and I’m sure is enjoying some hefty profits thanks to Hop taxpayers. We need to say no to this out of control spending, and circle back for a more cost effective solution.

    Reply
  2. Tim Koerner

    Bummed about those names. I think a tribute to the Hoyt family would have been a great name for the new school. I’ve never met a person in New England that didn’t take inspiration from that great father/son duo.

    Reply

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