Wednesday, October 27, 2010

School Building Committee Meeting- 10/20/10

My primary reason for attending the monthly SBC meetings is to provide timely updates for town residents about the new high school project and how our taxpayer money will be spent. I believe that this activity is particularly important since the SBC has done a very poor job of sharing information with town residents. The last set of minutes posted on the SBC website are dated August 19- a meeting that took place over two months ago. Minutes approved last week for the Sept 16 meeting have not as yet been posted. The SBC does not have televised meetings and in addition, the SBC meeting agenda provides no opportunity for public comments. The short five minute project updates by the SBC co-chairs at Select Board meetings are not adequate.

This project has important financial implications for our town and its taxpayers.  The SBC needs to improve its communication.

At last month’s meeting, I reported in my "meeting notes" that there was an emerging theme voiced by a number of SBC members to consider adding new project elements (called “add alternates) to the original project scope now that it appeared likely that the new high school project was going to cost significantly less than the originally estimated $78 million. Since town voters have already approved a Proposition 2½ “debt exclusion” override up to $78M, the SBC could consider inclusion of new project options (e.g., synthetic turf for practice field, hydraulic stage platform for new auditorium, air conditioning) without the need for any additional voter approval.

At this meeting which was attended by 6 town residents (vs. 2 at the September 16 meeting), co-chairs, Barkett and Swanson went on record to state that the SBC should not consider the $78 million as a blank check and that all changes should be considered very carefully and be “fully vetted”. Town Manager Crosbie went further to state that the SBC should “stay within the scope of the project and not stray from the mission”.

It will be interesting to watch whether or not this guidance is followed through the preparation of the bid specification packages + “add alternatives”.

Below are additional “meeting notes” from last week’s SBC meeting….

  • The high school project is on schedule with early site preparation work for relocation of major utilities (electric, telecommunications, etc.) starting sometime in November. As mentioned in last month’s meeting notes, a major portion of the high school parking lot on Williams Street (~ 40 parking spaces) will be eliminated. A portion of displaced student parking in the Grassy Gutter Road parking lot will be relocated to the Bliss tennis courts parking. There will be designated “student parking only” for 40 of 51 available spaces.
  • As part of this plan a new permanent concrete sidewalk will be constructed on the south side of Bliss Road (from Bliss tennis courts to the high school) to provide a safe pathway for students during the construction period. Some concern was expressed about the displacement of parking for tennis court users.
  • The relocation of the School Department offices to Wolf Swamp Road School is proceeding well with the new office space almost completed. The Superintendent reported that there were no significant dislocations for students/ teachers. Plans are being made to make the move during the holiday break in late December. The School Dept will remain at WS school until the 1971 wing renovation is completed in 2013 prior to the opening of the new high school. This temporary relocation is estimated to cost ~ $50K.
  • There will be a Longmeadow Planning Board review for the new high school project on November 3 . All property abutters have been invited to share concerns and issues. No problems are anticipated.
  • Continuing from last month’s meeting there was a lengthy discussion of project “add alternates”. A FAQ that was prepared for the SBC members about the add alternate process was discussed. Co-chair Swanson stated that this document would be posted on the SBC website (not as yet posted).

    The “add alternate” list seems to be growing. At the last SBC meeting, there was a discussion of “synthetic turf” for the HS practice field. At this meeting, inclusion of a “hydraulic lift” for a platform on the auditorium stage, upgrades to the swimming pool area (diving board and pool deck replacement), consideration of air conditioning for the entire high school (not just the adminstration offices) vs. the originally specified “air displacement” system and alternative roofing systems were discussed as possible "add alternates".
  • Jeanne Roberts (OMR- architect) discussed the need to develop a list of salvagable items could be physically removed from the high school prior to its demolition.  This list needs to be detailed with descriptions + photos + locations if the task is to be successfully completed. This list does not include classroom by classroom inventory that will be transported to the new school but rather items like bathroom partitions, fixtures including toilets, and other items that could be used for other town facilities.  Town Manager Robin Crosbie mentioned that there have been a number of recent upgrades at the high school so these items could have significant value.  At this point there are no town/school resources allocated to this task but Ms. Roberts recommended that it be done sooner rather than later.
  • There will be a SBC meeting on November 10 (time/ location TBD) to discuss the growing list of project “add alternates”. At this meeting there will be a “value engineering” discussion to help identify and prioritize these items. The project bid specification process requires a listing as well as prioritization (for trade related options) for these “add alternates”.
  • An update of the details of plans for the high school project financing was provided.  The SBC financial sub committee is giving strong consideration toward the use of permanent financing (vs. temporary construction loans, interest payment only) at the beginning of the project.  This option is being considered for implementation in December to lock in low interest rates.  The initial bond would be for $25 million with a 30 year bond maturity. Using permanent financing will create a interest + principal repayment in the current FY2011 of ~ $500K which would increase FY11 property taxes by ~ $.22/1000 or $77 for the average homeowner.  There would not be a need for voter approval since it is part of the $78 million Proposition 2½ debt exclusion.   A final decision on financing options will be made by the Select Board in November.
Stay tuned... the next important SBC meeting is scheduled for November 10.