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Snowball effect of capital needs highlighted by School Committee

by | Jul 28, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

The Hopkinton School Committee on Thursday reviewed updates to the district’s capital plan and talked about enrollment in conjunction with the proposed new Elmwood School and Hopkins School addition.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance/Operations Susan Rothermich focused on a series of “if/then” scenarios during her presentation. The Elmwood replacement project is working with a $170 million “placeholder” figure for fiscal year 2024. It is anticipated the total will be reduced once the Massachusetts School Building Authority and Mass Save and other energy incentives are factored in.

Rothermich added that decisions made by the Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC) also will significantly reduce that number.

According to School Committee chair Nancy Cavanaugh, also liaison to the ESBC, those decisions include selecting indoor and outdoor materials that are less expensive, making changes to the design to cut square footage and opting for a design-bid-build approach, which is expected to result in a $10 million reduction.

She said more precise cost estimates will be available in August so voters will know better what true total they are facing. (The $170 million figure represents what it would cost if the ESBC chose all the most expensive materials and included all the features).

Vice chair Amanda Fargiano said she wished an asterisk or footnote could be put with the total estimate to indicate to voters the impact on their taxes would be lower once incentives and reimbursement are included.

Importance of communication emphasized

Rothermich explained that the number on the Town Meeting warrant and election ballot must be the overall gross figure. “It comes down to communicating to the public. … They’ll see the total but need to understand there will be ‘X’ in incentives and ‘X’ in MSBA reimbursement” lowering that figure, she said.

School Committee member Adam Munroe said there would be “immense repercussions” if things do not pan out with reimbursement, for example. He reiterated the need for communication with the public.

Regarding FY24, Rothermich reported HVAC (heat, ventilation, air conditioning) point testing and VAV (variable air volume) replacement projects at the high school are underway and should be substantially completed by September.

Technology updates are in progress, and the approach chosen for a district-wide HVAC project may be done in collaboration with the Hopkins addition project, should the latter get approved.

She noted the Elmwood replacement project is awaiting cost estimates the ESBC will review on Aug. 22. Existing conditions at Hopkins School currently are under review.

In FY25, the cost for Hopkins addition is estimated at nearly $44 million. Fargiano pointed out the district is not in the pipeline for MSBA reimbursement on that item and would have to fund it through other means.

If/then scenarios given on capital projects

The fate of Elmwood and Hopkins projects impacts other capital needs that have been expressed in the past, Rothermich said.

For example, Rothermich said if Elmwood has a successful vote, then one grade moves off the Hopkins/middle school/high school campus, and the tennis courts could be moved or reconfigured to add parking. With one grade removed from the middle school, the traffic could be cut/reconfigured for the higher-grade schools.

Also, a successful Elmwood vote would open up the existing school for a potential relocation of the preschool. Relocating the preschool, she said, would result in six more classroom spaces to absorb enrollment at Marathon. The issue remaining would be common areas like the cafeteria.

If the Elmwood and Hopkins projects are both approved, Rothermich said moving Grade 6 would free up 10 classrooms for the high school and create capacity up to year 2028 there if all space is utilized. Then the timeline for a feasibility study in the higher grades could be adjusted.

There also is a question of whether a loop road paving and sidewalk project could be wrapped into the Hopkins addition if it is approved. It would involve a new emergency access road around the building and parking and could be moved to FY27 to coincide with the Hopkins addition opening or scrapped altogether, she said.

Using the “if/then” scenarios shows how the Elmwood and Hopkins projects can influence other capital needs that are on the district’s long-range plan, according to Rothermich.

“If we do these two projects, it opens up the possibility to delay things elsewhere,” said Nancy Cavanaugh. “It’s not the reality we live in to do all of them.”

Rothermich also talked about the effect one item can have on another.

“There is a danger in taking a 10-year capital plan, adding it up and saying, ‘This is the effect,’ because there are levers that are pressed annually that change that information,” she said.

“You can see how easily these ‘if/then’ statements change projects,” Rothermich added.

Enrollment increase broken down to classrooms

Earlier, Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh reviewed enrollment and general education classrooms, noting an increase of 780 students from 2018 to 2023. Breaking that down to 20 students per classroom means 39 classrooms are required, she said.

The superintendent said the district has added 18 classrooms since 2018: four modulars at Elmwood, four modulars at Hopkins, four stick-built classrooms at Marathon and six stick-built classrooms at Hopkinton High School.

Therefore, the district has handled 360 students with those measures, Carol Cavanaugh said. “We have absorbed the other 420 students without space. … That’s a very large number.”

Fargiano said the district had done all it could to accommodate the influx of students.

“There is no easy next step. If there was, we’d do it,” she said.

Nancy Cavanaugh said there comes a point when it becomes a safety issue, having so many kids in the cafeteria, hallways and other common areas.

She added the ESBC took these issues into account while developing plans.

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