Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Swanson's exceptional defense of the new high school project

The following is an open letter to Longmeadow residents from Christine Swanson that will appear in the papers soon (I hope). In it, she meticulously corrects several of the misimpressions out there about the proposed debt exclusion override and clearly identifies the fiscal advantages of the proposal.

The patience, prose, and detailed knowledge of the issue evidenced in this letter is a fantastic example of how wise it is to support former School Committee members running for the Select Board. She will most definately bring valuable institutional and organizational knowledge to the Select Board. If you don't support the High School project and Christine Swanson's candidacy after reading her analysis, then I can't imagine how you are making your decisions.


Dear Longmeadow Residents,

The most critical need in this town is purposeful planning and development of long and short term solutions to address revenue shortfalls, infrastructure needs and maintaining town services. Without a plan in place, residents find themselves paralyzed from taking action based on what may be perceived as an overwhelming, monumental list of issues. Well, I for one do not cower in the face of huge challenges but rather step up to create solutions. This is what I have been known for in my business career and what I bring to the table as a Select Board Member.

This brings me to what some may call the largest issue this town has ever faced to what I call the greatest opportunity ever presented to the town. Of course, I am speaking of the Longmeadow High School Project. As the Co-Chair of the School Building Committee, my position on the project is clear: I absolutely support this project and based on my three years working through the process, I am 100 percent certain that this is the best long term solution for the entire Town of Longmeadow.

One of my fellow candidates for Select Board, Mark Gold, developed and released several position statements in the last few months regarding the Longmeadow High School Building project. In these documents, that have been emailed to residents and/or posted on his web site, Mr. Gold makes comparisons between the Hampden-Wilbraham Minnechaug Regional High School building project and the Longmeadow High School building project. While these two projects may seem similar, they are quite different. All the data for the Longmeadow High School project is available on line at or in hard copy at Storrs library. I hope the following information will assist Mr. Gold and the residents of Longmeadow with a greater understanding of this project. I apologize in advance for the length of this document but felt that it was important to provide as much information as possible.

1)Hampden/Wilbraham did not do a comprehensive feasibility study to determine current conditions. They were offered a model school option and chose to move forward. Longmeadow residents chose to do a more comprehensive feasibility study that looked at every major component of the building including systems, structure, health and safety and code compliance to determine the best and most economical long term solution.

Eight options ranging from minor renovation to model school were reviewed, analyzed and scored against a decision matrix. The results of this matrix and the eight options considered were shared at several public forums and posted online. However, Mr. Gold incorrectly states in an email to several residents: “the School Building Committee (SBC) looked at one renovation option and only one renovation option. They did not look system by system (heating, electrical, ADA, etc), but rather looked only at a "gut it to the studs and start over" job.” Had Mr. Gold reviewed the feasibility study that has been available on line and at Storrs Library since October of 2009, he would have noted the eight options that were reviewed by the SBC including the renovation of just systems and code compliance.

To reiterate, the School Building Committee did consider 8 different options all of which may be found as part of the feasibility study and can be found on line as well as at Storrs Library. Several options of renovation were considered but the MSBA and the SBC agreed that the most economical long term solution was the selected option of partial reno and partial new construction.

Mr. Gold also states in his email “The SBC discounts the Kaestle Boos study because it only cost us a few $10's of thousands of dollars. They preferentially cite the study done by their architect which only studied the total gut alternative.” Again, this is incorrect. The MSBA reviewed the Kaestle Boos study and found it deficient in many areas, hence the MSBA requirement for Longmeadow to complete a feasibility study. As stated above, eight options, not one, were considered and of those eight, three were submitted for cost estimates. All the details are provided and available on line at the SBC website.

2)Mr. Gold claims in his position paper and email to a resident that Minnechaug will be 24% larger than Longmeadow High School. To quote from one of his position papers “As comparison, we only need look at the high school project recently approved in Wilbraham and Hampden (Minnechaug Regional H.S.). The Minnechaug project will be building a school that is 24% larger…”

In actuality, Minnechaug is estimated to be 248,000 square feet including their pool and district offices and Longmeadow High School will be 237,000 square feet; a difference of roughly 4.6%. In addition, the MSBA agreed upon enrollment for Longmeadow is 1000 students and Minnechaug is 1225.

3)Mr. Gold claims that Longmeadow High School is 22% more expensive than Minnechaug. In reality, the total projected cost of Minnechaug is $82 million versus $78.5 million for Longmeadow High School. When Mr. Gold makes his statements about cost it is clear that he does not understand the reimbursement calculations for MSBA funding.

While it is true that Hampden/Wilbraham will be receiving a larger percentage of reimbursement; similar to the Chapter 70 funding formula for state aid, reimbursement from the MSBA takes into consideration wealth factors, property values and other economic decision points. This is why Hampden/Wilbraham’s base reimbursement rate was higher than Longmeadow’s and their overall state grant is also higher based on additional reimbursement points for a model school.
Longmeadow Reimbursement Rate-51.84% Hampden/Wilbraham Reimbursement Rate-56.73% plus an additional 5% for model school

4)Mr. Gold writes “The Longmeadow project includes $9.4 Million in unreimbursed costs, mostly for the renovation of the 1971 wing to house the School Department, swimming pool and LCTV. Minnechaug is also renovating an existing wing for their School Department (and like Longmeadow to keep their pool), but their unreimbursed costs for the project are $5.47 million.”

Mr. Gold also states in his email, “Starting with the fact that we're paying $9.4million to keep the pool and build offices for the School Department - and all of that is our money, not state reimbursement. If rebuilding a pool is $3million of that $9.4m, then we're paying $6.4m for office space. Kind of steep when Minnechaug's version of pool and office renovation is $5.4M vs. our $9.4"

All the data pertaining to the ‘71 wing renovation may be found in the feasibility study and in schematic design documents. Mr. Gold is incorrect with his statements regarding the renovation and comparison with Minnechaug.

First, Minnechaug is not renovating their district offices and pool but rather building new spaces as part of the overall building for a total square footage of 17k.

Longmeadow will be renovating the ‘71 building that will house the pool and district offices but will also include an additional gymnasium, weight room, business and technology classrooms, the health classroom and studio and office space for LCTV for a total of 52k sq feet.

While Mr. Gold implies that we are paying almost double for the pool and district office space, he fails to state that we are getting almost three times the square footage with more usable space then just district offices and a pool.

5)Mr. Gold also states: “In the six years (2003-2009) I served as chair of the Capital Planning committee, recognizing the needs of the high school building, I led the Capital Planning Committee in recommending the appropriation and expenditure of over $500,000 to address physical plant needs of the high school. The needs of the high school building are very clear – particularly the physical plant issues such as heating and electrical systems, classroom amenities, and handicap accessibility”

Mr. Gold was the chairperson of the Capital Planning Committee and served the town well in this capacity. However, his claims of addressing physical plant issues, heating, electrical etc are overstated. The following is a list of the projects approved through capital planning for the high school over the past years. It represents a continued process of piecemeal repair and “band aids”:

ADA $147,500, Handicap Bathrooms $15,000, Music Lab Ventilation $25,000, Door and Window Upgrade $65,000, Tech Infrastructure $15,000, Data Upgrade $2,500, Exterior Wall $15,000, Hazardous Material Disposal $6,500, Interior Door Replacement $49,500, Pool Liner Repair $65,000, Re-point Mortar 71 wing $50,000, Pool Heating Coil $9,960, Broadband Network $45,000, Music Room Lockers $25,400, Handicap Access $18,000, Add’l Doors and Windows $45,300, Total $599,660

6)Mr. Gold continues “I believe that in addition to achieving the “needs” of the building, our high school students, and the town residents, the School Building Committee (SBC) selected a project option that includes too many “wants” at too high a price and one that does not address one of the building’s greatest needs – a larger auditorium”

First, I am concerned that Mr. Gold uses the term “I believe” and does not seek out the facts. Mr. Gold’s statement of wants vs. needs is completely unfounded and unsubstantiated. The MSBA completes a rigorous review of the project to ensure compliance with its standards which are designed to “develop fiscally responsible and educationally appropriate solutions, and create safe, sound, and sustainable learning environments.”

Secondly, Mr. Gold does not understand the MSBA building restrictions or the vetting process completed by the SBC. MSBA has strict guidelines for the size of auditoriums and the SBC did challenge the MBSA’s seating restriction and to have an exception made for more seating but to no avail.

7)As Mr. Gold admits he is not a construction expert and when he is challenged on his $40 million estimate he emails “There is no engineering basis for the $40 million renovation estimate. I hope that what I said was that I believed that we could do a renovation for $40 million and that if we did, based on the state reimbursement policy we'd get around $25 million in state money. The basis for that magnitude of funding in my statement was the Kastle Boos study done several years ago. However, that approach would require that we review the systems and other needs of the building and use a triage approach to financing each issue.”

I agree with Mr. Gold, that the 40 million dollars has no basis in fact. This is why the feasibility study was completed by 18 different professional firms in the architectural and engineering fields. Per the architects from OMR: “If you consider the feasibility study budgets, you can spend $5M just renovating the plumbing and fire protection systems OR just renovating the vertical portions of the exterior skin of the building OR just doing half of the mechanical system upgrade OR just providing temporary fit outs while construction is underway. Spending that kind of money now is as someone once said, “penny wise and pound foolish”. You will probably see more needs in a few years and very little to show for it. A complete renovation of the existing building is about the same price as the new wing with sizable reno of the 70s building. Either you do it now at 57 cents on the dollar, or over the next 20 years, the town will be renovating the building in small pieces at more than 100%. Lastly, a $5M reno will most likely trigger complete handicap access and seismic and other structural upgrades to the building and grounds.”

Mr. Gold suggests a scaled down more piece meal approach to upgrades/renovation. Mr. Gold proposes that we can vote down this project and still receive funding from MSBA for a different project of modified scope. His assertion is certainly not grounded in any documentation from the MSBA and is contrary to their “failed vote policy”.

Opposition to the Minnechaug project stated basically the same misinformation causing the Executive Director of the MSBA, Ms. Katherine Craven to write a letter of explanation to the Wilbraham Times, dated August 25th 2009 where she states “This proposed new model high school is an exciting opportunity for the residents of Hampden and Wilbraham, and if this proposal does not succeed, it is unlikely there will be an alternative project for Minnechaug High School for years to come.”

What he fails to mention is the fact that the state will be reimbursing Longmeadow $34 million. To quote the architects from OMR, “It is all or nothing when it comes to the MSBA, either the Town is fully invested in the program, or they walk away. That is a loss of $30M+!”

8)Lastly, Mr. Gold states “among the reasons the SBC rejected the renovation proposal was a concern about the impact on students of a long term construction project at the high school. I, however, am of the belief that construction planners are clever enough to manage a phased approach to renovation or reconstruction of a building with 950 students that has the capacity for 1300 students (such as moving the students out of the 1/3 of the school that is under construction) that is only occupied 185 days of the year.”

Construction planners are creative, however, if is not as simple as renovating a room at a time. Once the walls are opened there is significant abatement of hazardous material necessary and this process should not take place with students in the building. There are currently over a thousand students in Longmeadow High School and given the current curriculum demands of 8 blocks, excess capacity does not exist. A phased approach was considered but the architects, educational professionals and residents all voiced serious reservations and concerns about this approach. In addition, given the significant amount of asbestos in the walls, they determined it was not the most economical long term solution and it was not the best use of tax payer dollars.

As we move quickly to a decision on this critical project for Longmeadow, Mr. Gold fails to point out several of our neighbors who have in last 10 years considered new construction in lieu of renovation. They are the Putnam project (renovated roughly 23 yrs ago and ripe for a new building). Putnam, as we know, has now come in UNDER the projected construction costs in recent bids. West Springfield, Easthampton, Granby, Chicopee - 2 High Schools, Somers, CT; Suffield, CT; and Agawam - expected Statement of Interest before June 2010.

My position on this project is quite well known. I support this project for many reasons including best use of tax payer dollars, operational savings, educational opportunities, community use and a building that will serve the community of Longmeadow for the next 50+ years. This is 44 million dollar building project that is an investment in the future of Longmeadow.

I urge you to Vote Yes at the Town Meeting on May 25th and again at the ballot box on June 8th.

Christine Swanson
Co-Chair School Building Committee
Candidate for Select Board


Anonymous said...

Handicap Access will be triggered under two possible scenerios:

1-Spend 30% of the fair 100% assessed value of the building in which case the entire building & additions shall comply to Mass AAB reg 521CMR


2-spend less than 30% in which case only the work performed shall comply to MA AAB reg 521CMR

The MA AAB is more applicable in the sense that it is building code & not civil rights legislation like the ADAAG

I strongly recommend creating as much Access & Opportunity as possibility for Individuals with Disabilities by addressing all of the architectural barriers in every student/public space at the Longmeadow High School: this will only enhance the quality of life for the entire town of Longmeadow.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the Town of Longmeadow is already required by Federal ADA law under Title II to provide 100% Equal Access. Any building or facility is open to a law suit per the ADA if that building has architectural, programatic or policy barriers. The town was required too put together a transition plan that defines a time line for implementing the removal of any/all architectural, programatic & policy barriers defined in the transition plan. All municipal governments were required to create a transition plan by 1992 & be in full compliance of ADAAG/Title II by 1995.