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School Committee focuses on Hopkins project kickoff

by | Jun 21, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

Approving contracts associated with the $48 million Hopkins School addition and renovation project was the focus of Thursday’s School Committee meeting.

Before discussing the finances, Vertex project manager Christopher Eberly gave a reminder of the features of the project for the benefit of new members Chris Masters and Jamie Wronka.

Ultimately, the Hopkins School will serve a projected 803 students in Grades 5-6 with additional classrooms, provisions for four modulars once the Charleswood School project is done, a new gym and multipurpose room, an expanded cafeteria and spaces for enhanced science, technology and engineering programs as well as art and music.

Eberly said the nurse, administration and custodial and maintenance areas would be enlarged, as would outdoor parking and bus drop-off spaces.

The plan is for the addition to open in 2026 (February to June), open fully to fourth and fifth graders for the 2026-27 school year and then, the following year, move Grade 4 to Charleswood and Grade 6 to this new Lower Middle School (Hopkins).

Eberly said the construction costs are tracking below the figures at Town Meeting by $727,019. However, he emphasized the presence of 7% in contingencies on top of construction costs and the 2.5% the construction manager at risk has held in contingency to manage unknowns.

Committee member Chris Masters asked questions about the guardrails in place to protect the town and avoid a situation where Town Meeting gets approached for more money.

Vertex project director Jeff D’Amico said there are a lot of layers of checks and balances and “opportunities to pivot.” He said the risks are less with a building built in the 1990s versus the ’50s or ’70s.

D’Amico said in 23 years, outside of COVID, his team has never come back and asked for more money. With the Marathon School project, $2 million was returned.

“An engaged owner is the way to keep projects under control,” Eberly said.

Ultimately, the School Committee approved the following contracts for the start of the construction phase: $1,376,625 to Perkins Eastman for construction administration and geotechnical monitoring services; $1, 645,607 to Vertex for construction administration (on-site person), commissioning, testing and inspection services; and $8,962,936 to Commodore Builders for early GMP (guarantee maximum price) and initial release of contractors to begin construction.

Another vote gave Assistant Superintendent for Finance Susan Rothermich and School Committee Chair Nancy Cavanaugh change order authorization up to $75,000 and $125,000 respectively for issues that occur between meetings.

D’Amico noted that owner’s project manager Vertex is beholden to the town and not the designer or contractor.

“We’re your checks and balances,” he said, noting that there was a lot of back and forth between Vertex and Commodore Builders to keep the budget numbers down, and that will continue.

“It’s a natural part of the process as they try to protect themselves, and we’re trying to protect you,” D’Amico said. “We squeeze numbers and wring them out and put them back on our side of the fence.”

He added that it is an exciting chapter for the project, kicking things off: “We break ground in July and we’ll be busy all summer.”

In September, he will return with the balance of the contract for a vote.

“We’ll use the same rigor with the numbers as we did now,” D’Amico told the committee.

Central office renovations underway

In her superintendent’s report, Carol Cavanaugh noted that major exterior renovations are going on at the central office. Therefore, remote access started and will continue through July 8. She encouraged people to make appointments to see specific staff people at the buildings during summer months. Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The exterior work includes roof replacement, new siding, parking lot paving and berms and landscaping updates. Cavanaugh said it is the intent of the owner of the building, which is not the School Department, to make the central office section look like the rest of the facility.

Adaptive playground design process outlined

Rothermich spoke about a $100,000 grant from the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for the engineering study, design and construction bid documents for an inclusive playground.

Town Meeting in May 2024 approved the use of the funds for the design services through schematic design, with the School Committee overseeing spending.

She said an Adaptive Playground Committee was formed, comprised of herself, the director of student services, a school committee member, two parent representatives, a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) representative, a Commission of Disability member, the directors of Parks & Recreation and Public Works and four student representatives.

Rothermich said the Adaptive Playground Committee met four times to discuss goals, consider possible locations and gather other information to present to the designer.

She said 14 vendors expressed interest in the bid documents and three proposals were submitted, including one that did not meet minimum qualifications.

Rothermich said on July 9, the Select Board will vote to approve delegation of authority to the School Committee under the designer selection policy.

The assistant superintendent said she will negotiate fees with the chosen designer and will bring that amount back at the next School Committee meeting on July 11. On July 25, the CPC will meet to approve the designer budget.

Education Foundation grants accepted

The School Committee accepted a total of $6,751.78 in Hopkinton Education Foundation grants. The superintendent explained that teachers can apply for funds to implement special programs or buy equipment. “It goes right back to the kids,” Cavanaugh said.

The funds granted this year were $1,267 for training and resources for Hopkins staff related to LGBTQ inclusivity and safe spaces; $1,849.74 for Turn the Tide: an integrated science and reading unit at Hopkins about environmental activism and the human impact on water sources — including an author visit; $1,340.04 for Library Read and Ride at Hopkins and Hopkinton Middle School, involving the deployment of two stationary bikes at libraries to encourage exercise while reading; and $2,295 to enhance biology labs with innovative tools at the high school — namely a digital stereomicroscope for group and class teaching.

BeSmart resolution adopted

The School Committee voted to adopt a BeSmart resolution concerning the safe storage of firearms, following a presentation at the last meeting.

The superintendent, in coordination with the police chief, will send out a reminder annually to families about the Massachusetts law in this regard.

Representatives from Grassroots 4GVP (Gun Violence Prevention) noted that they hoped for more frequent reminders and its inclusion in the school handbook.

The superintendent noted more frequent communication could be considered. But she said the handbook only extends to discipline and behaviors happening in school. “When they are at home, we have no control over it,” she said.

Also in the resolution, Carol Cavanaugh said, is that the district will ensure that all personnel responsible for the care of children receive intruder training called ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

She said the order in which these steps are taken depends on the incident, and recent thought is evacuation is the safest.

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