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School Committee talks Hopkins addition project, building budgets

by | Dec 8, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

The School Committee heard presentations on the Hopkins addition project and proposed budgets for various schools, the central office and the Building & Grounds Department at Thursday’s three-hour meeting.

Dan Colli, project manager at architect Perkins Eastman, reviewed the schematic design of the 27,000 square-foot Hopkins School addition/renovation project. Colli explained the work involves turning the existing gym into a cafeteria, increasing the size of the kitchen, turning the existing cafeteria into a band/orchestra room, and making the existing stage a receiving area.

In addition, there will be five classrooms added and modulars moved from the existing Elmwood School once the new school project is completed.

Colli said an initial system-wide study indicated a price tag of $46.9 million. In November 2023, at the end of the schematic design phase, that estimate rose to $49.7 million. Much of that increase resulted from the size of the addition growing by 2,702 square feet and other scope refinements, he said.

School Committee vice chair Amanda Fargiano asked whether some of the change is the result of having sixth graders move to Hopkins from the middle school.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said sixth graders have drama and engineering programs moving into the building along with “dribs and drabs of other things,” contributing to the change.

Colli said the biggest impact are the “unknowns” when you do a system-wide study.

“You don’t know everything you know later on,” he said. “The puzzle is incomplete. Once we get to know the [educational] program, that’s when fluctuations occur.”

He added the market currently is at $700 per square foot.

Among the deferred items in the proposal are elevator modernization, classroom renovations such as painting and finishes, corridor finishes, accessible audio enhancements, existing systems upgrades and signage improvements, he said.

Excluded from the project is a $1.3 million to $1.5 million component to repave the loop road around the building. That work could be done when everything else is complete as a separate project. There is a capital request in fiscal year 2024 for mechanical equipment upgrades. The amount the town may receive from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and MassSave funds is unknown, Colli said.

Unlike the Elmwood School project, the Hopkins one is not eligible to receive reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

The project manager noted permitting and construction documents and the hiring of a construction manager would occur during 2024. The work is expected to last for 22 to 28 months and be done by December 2026, if not earlier.

The modular relocation from Elmwood School would take place in 2027.

Other key dates highlighted by Colli include January 2024 for the first public forum, 50% of construction documents by April 2024, and Town Meeting vote in May 2024.

Fargiano said she would like to see a list of educational needs — “what the learning space will offer.”

Committee members talked about what would happen while the cafeteria is being worked on. Although the construction manager (CM) will come in with ideas, Assistant Superintendent for Finance Susan Rothermich said there is the possibility of meals being prepared in another school kitchen “to go” and brought over.

“That would double task one kitchen, so the logistics are being worked out,” she said.

Another option would be renting trailers with kitchens.

Colli said the addition would be done before demolition, so there is a lot of time to work it out with the CM.

Member Susan Stephenson spoke of the need to have as “much push behind this project” as there was for the new Elmwood School.

Member Adam Munroe said the Hopkins project would be a “more difficult sell. … Many folks are at their limit as to what they will OK.” He said the committee must continue to look at ways to “defray costs and cut corners” and convey what is going on to the public.

Chair Nancy Cavanaugh stressed the importance of working through the process with the Select Board and Appropriations Committee. She said there would be several community forums on the project so residents could get information and ask questions.

Budget requests outlined by principals

The committee also heard budget presentations by building principals.

Marathon School principal Lauren Dubeau’s $4.6 million request, or 3.4% increase, includes 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) addition to counseling staff. There is currently 1.5 FTE working with 580 children in Grades K-1, she said.

General supplies of $58,332 represents a 2.49% decrease, although replacing copiers adds $16,000 to total expenses, she said.

Elmwood principal David Brauninger talked about two 0.6 math tutor positions, previously grant funded, that he would like to see continue. He explained Elmwood’s population is currently 642 students in Grades 2-3, and the tutoring services helped 65 children and monitored 100 others, based on data.

“We’re really catching kids early and building foundational skills,” Brauninger said.

In response to questions, he said tutors help students during the school day in the classroom with teachers, in small groups or in pull-out sessions, depending on what is needed.

Assistant Superintendent Jeff LaBroad said it is getting to the time that funding for positions to supplement Title 1 tutors during COVID times is “at the end of the line,” and the district would like to create permanent positions for the additional tutors.

Brauninger also requested that a 0.5 FTE intensive special education teacher be hired in the fall to continue to provide services.

Hopkins principal Matt Cotter asked for an additional assistant principal and a 0.5 music/chorus teacher at a cost of $108,702. He said the school’s population of 685 warrants the second administrator.

Hopkins School currently has Grades 4-5. (That will change when fourth graders move to the new Elmwood School in the future.)

Discussion followed about the difficulties of asking for an administrator.

Nancy Cavanaugh said she can see both sides — the large enrollment measured with overall budget concerns — and would “withhold judgment” on the request for now.

Carol Cavanaugh noted that having one assistant principal per almost 700 students at Hopkins is “untenable.”

The music request is because the fourth grade chorus has 120 students and this position would allow for two choruses at that grade. The one current teacher is working 1.5 FTE and could return to a full-time role, Cotter said.

Tim Persson, director of facilities and grounds, proposed a budget of approximately $4 million. He talked about the need for another custodian at the Middle School.

Persson said the current staff does a great job but they are being asked to clean an enormous amount of space. With enrollment growth, he said, comes more students and more cleaning.

He also asked for an assistant director to help handle day-to-day tasks. “I know it is a tough ask,” Persson said. He pointed out that all the construction projects going on are taking his focus away from operations. Over his seven-year tenure, Persson said, there have been one or more major building projects each year.

“It’s hard to be in two places at once,” Persson said.

The two positions would cost $136,511.

Nancy Cavanaugh said he has had a tight budget over the years and has asked for additional positions that have not made the final cuts.

“You’ve waited a long time to get to this point,” she said.

She said the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) had given money based on the schools’ good maintenance and that should be kept in mind.

Rothermich’s central office budget has a 10%, or $472,132, increase with salaries increasing 8.3% or $163,410. The amount is the result of salary reserve, cost of living increases, teacher lane change estimates and longevity pay. No new personnel are included in the request, Rothermich said.

Expenses are up 11%, or $308,722, with the addition of two buses to handle enrollment. A total of 3,423 students in the district (83%) have registered for bus use.

Board accepts grants, consolidates position

In other business, the School Committee accepted an $11,000 My Career and Academic Plan (MyCAP) grant described by LaBroad. The grant is to develop a program in Grades 6-12 to help students identify skills, interests and talents in order to align with course taking. The grant is from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The board also accepted a $26,853 federal targeted special education grant called Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B (IDEA). …

Nancy Cavanaugh gave an update on the vacancy left on the committee when Holly Morand recently resigned to take a job with Hopkinton Youth & Family Services.

She said there were four candidates for that slot. The School Committee will meet with the Select Board next week to select a candidate. Prior to that meeting, members would receive packets of information to review. …

The committee approved a memorandum of understanding with SEIU Local 888 (cafeteria workers) that runs from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2025. New is the elimination of added money when the kitchen is short-staffed. Instead, there will be an additional 50 cents per hour added to the salary grid. …

High school principal Evan Bishop’s request to consolidate two FTE paraprofessional B positions that have been vacant since the start of the year into one SPED position with severe/intensive certification was passed. The position is cost neutral in FY 24 and not a reduction in paraprofessionals FTE for FY 25, according to Bishop. …

The committee also reviewed and adopted a policy regarding staff conduct that was worked on with approval of the educators’ union.

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