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School Committee talks revised capital plan, Hopkins project

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

During a three-hour meeting Thursday, the School Committee heard updates on the district’s capital plan, solar panel installations and the Marathon School addition. The committee also chose the construction manager at risk delivery method for the Hopkins School renovation project.

Susan Rothermich, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, gave a presentation outlining how approval of the proposed Elmwood School replacement and Hopkins addition project would impact other capital needs recommended in the past.

She noted that the new Elmwood School cost now is at $158,427,494, which includes $1 million already approved and spent during the feasibility phase. The total does not include rebates from MassSave and the Inflation Reduction Act as well as Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement.

She said the town’s cost with those factors would be in the range of $105 million to $108 million.

Rothermich said a successful Elmwood vote would open the existing building for a potential relocation of the preschool and result in six more classroom spaces to absorb enrollment at Marathon.

An Elmwood approval also could mean cutting a $4 million capital item related to relocation of the high school tennis courts for more parking and eliminating a $2.2 million request to reconfigure traffic flow at the middle school and high school, as one grade would move out of the middle school.

Moving Grade 6 out would free up 10 classrooms for the high school and accommodate capacity up to 2028 if all space is used, Rothermich said.

It would mean timelines for feasibility studies at the higher grades could be adjusted.

An original request for loop road paving and a sidewalk project could be moved to fiscal year 2027 to coincide with the Hopkins addition or eliminated altogether, she said.

“It reinforces that the process is something you do annually because information changes all the time,” Rothermich said.

She noted that the town is using older information about the school district’s capital requests in its spreadsheet. She was advised to send updated copies of the presentation so that other town officials can be on the same page. The committee ultimately voted to approve the new capital plan.

Chair Nancy Cavanaugh said there is a $119 million difference between what the committee is looking at now versus capital requests unveiled in the past. If one or both projects are not approved by Town Meeting, then the plan and its timeline would change again.

SUBHED: Solar panels, Marathon addition updates given

Reporting on solar panels, Rothermich noted the rooftop installation is complete. Hopkins School is live, while the middle and high schools are awaiting an electrical switch to go live.

Work on canopy installations is underway at the high school bus lot, with an estimated completion next month. The canopy installation at the middle school is expected to start in November and be done around January 2024.

Displaying a photo of Marathon School with its addition, the assistant superintendent said the “new and old buildings blend seamlessly.” Once the final flooring base molding and counters are complete, furniture will be set.

Rothermich said Mill City Construction expects to turn the space over to the school district department later this month, which is one month earlier than expected.

She added that in addition to having the work done early, it came in under budget.

Hopkins project delivery method chosen

Following a presentation and recommendation by Vertex Project Director Jeff D’Amico, the committee decided to use a construction manager at risk (CMAR) method to carry out the Hopkins addition project work.

Although the proposed Elmwood School is using the other model, DBB (design, bid, build) with a general contractor, D’Amico said this project is complex due to challenging logistics such as students in the building and an aggressive schedule.

He noted that seven weeks in, the design team is looking at two options within the addition: a new gym with renovations of the current gym to make it part of the cafeteria (right now, the spaces are next to each other), or a new cafeteria and kitchen in the addition with renovations to the existing cafeteria to make it part of the gym.

Some upgrades trigger new codes for things like heights of hand rails and levers, he said. Other possible light work includes ceiling tile replacement and patch and paint work.

The CMAR method means more flexibility, a larger pool of bidders, pre- and post-construction services, a negotiated price and “more boots on the ground and skin in the game,” among other things, according to D’Amico.

In other business, the committee:

— announced Jack Ianelli as the new student council representative. Because of an athletic event conflict, he will attend his first meeting next time;

— accepted a $20,181 Northeast Foods on School grant award;

— added a .5 special education (SPED) position at Elmwood School, increasing a vacant .5 slot to full-time for severe/intensive needs. (The position will be funded through an increase in the preschool revolving fund this year);

— approved requests for one SPED paraprofessional each at Elmwood and Hopkins as a result of new students with significant needs.

Faculty satisfaction, school climate debated

During a discussion of the superintendent’s goals and indicators (how they are carried out) which drive her evaluation, member Holly Morand said she would abstain from a vote because it is tied into a district-wide evaluation she would like to see done.

She said she wants to ascertain how faculty and staff feel — whether they are satisfied they are seen and heard, feel safe and supported, and are receiving the resources they need.

“Are you asking if they are happy?” asked member Susan Stephenson.

Members talked about how it is difficult to define happiness.

Noting that it is a broad term that is hard to quantify, member Adam Munroe said it is within the superintendent’s realm to determine there is a process in place. “It’s not for us to dictate what tools she should use,” he said.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said these are building-level issues, and administrators have an open-door policy and administer surveys, among other things.

Vice chair Amanda Fargiano said that evaluating the superintendent is one-third of the committee’s job, and she did not want only four members feeling comfortable doing it.

After a lot of back and forth, Carol Cavanaugh read a definition of school climate that the school stakeholders devised in 2021, which spelled out the things Morand said she is seeking.

Fargiano suggested there was a place in the professional practice goals for this issue. She suggested they could ask for evidence of if and how “climate” as defined by the district is being upheld and how gaps would be identified.

The superintendent said she would add it as a “goal light,” and look at a “temperature-taking process” that could get data.

The goals and evaluation will be revisited at a future meeting.

1 Comment

  1. Holly Morand

    As a clarification point, I am not asking us to determine whether staff is “happy.” I am asking to consider whether our shared vision of “respect and collaboration” is also a part of our staff’s experience at HPS. I first brought this request up during the last school year, and again during the summer. Staff represents 80% of our district’s operating budget – which is about $48M. They are a considerable and essential asset.

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