While the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has already approved reimbursing Stoneham more than half of the total cost to construct the proposed Middle School, voters will decide whether to put the project on the April 3 Ballot at a Special Town Meeting on Feb. 7.
The School Building Committee is seeking Special Town Meeting authorization from voters for the estimated $40 million project. If our on what should be the town's top priority in 2012 is any indication of voter sentiment, the Middle School project might get the support it needs on Feb. 7, as it garnered 43 percent of the votes to top the list.
On Jan. 25, the MSBA approved reimbursing the town 57.5 percent for the school construction project, according to Committee chairperson Jeanne Craigie. The state reimbursement grant would be about $22 million, with the remaining $18 million to be paid for by the town. She added that the MSBA regarded the Middle School project as the "best presented" of the five plans reviewed by the MSBA last month.
However, if voters reject funding the proposal, the town would lose the $22 million dedicated by the state for the project and it would be removed from the state's approved projects listing. And, it may also lead to higher construction costs down the road if the project is delayed.
A Breakdown of Costs
The construction budget is projected to be about $32 million, followed by design and construction administration ($4.1 million), contingency ($2 million), furnishings and technology ($1.9 million). A $600,000 feasbility study was approved in May 2010, which is also eligible for state reimbursement.
Based on average home valuations, taxpayers can expect to pay $176 per year over 20 years.
Why Build a New Middle School?
The Committee has cited several reasons why the existing Middle School has outlived its usefulness as an educational setting, including how energy inefficient the structure is and how that leads to higher energy costs, non-compliant with accessibility requirements and building codes and how the concrete frame is in poor condition.
After reviewing multiple plans, the Committee also decided it was in the best interest of the town to build the Middle School as an addition to the existing rather than attempt to make costly improvements to the , which was erected in 1954.
Meanwhile, the existing 115,980-square-foot Middle School would be razed and the property likely sold to a developer.
What's the Plan?
The proposed 80,213-square-foot Middle School would accommodate 775 students in grades 5-8. The plan calls for 48 classrooms as well as delineated spaces for art, a cafeteria, gymnasium, a media center, music, offices, special education and technology.
How Does the Plan Stack Up Against Other Schools?
At $234 per square foot, the Stoneham Middle School project comes in well below the MSBA's cap of $275 per square foot, as well as the $308 per square foot average for similar school projects, according to Craigie.
What is the Time Frame for the Project?
If voters support the funding at the Special Town Meeting, the project schedule may look like this moving forward:
- April 3: Debt exclusion vote takes place.
- April: MSBA project funding agreement established.
- Winter 2013: Project goes out to bid and for permitting before construction gets underway.
- Aug. 2014: New Middle School opens.
- Fall 2014: Old Middle School razed.
What Benefits Come from Building a New Middle School?
During the construction phase, the project would create job opportunities and provide a local stimulus. Once built, a new Middle School may lead to higher valuations in town, while also providing a safe, energy efficient and improved learning environment for students.
"The last time the town had a bond, the state would pay us back incrementally," said Paul Rotondi, chairperson of the Board of Selectmen and member of the School Building Committee. "They are paying the money up front and that reduces the risk of the project."
What are Some of the Issues with the Project?
Some residents recently voiced their concerns over the finding of arsenic in one of the five test borings conducted during a peer review at the Central School site by Peabody-based engineering firm Weston & Sampson. Residents asked for an independent third party to conduct future peer reviews.
On Monday, Charles Hay, of Boston-based Tappé Associates, said he made several calls in search of an independent firm to handle the peer reviews who had no connections with Weston & Sampson which proved difficult. However, he recommended Norwood-based environmental consulting firm Lord Associates, Inc. because they recently conducted similar peer review services for a project in Wilmington.
The proposed cost for the peer review, which would include a review of all available environmental information from original construction, as well as new Phase I and Phase II site investigation reports prepared by Weston & Sampson, is $3,000, according to a proposal submitted by Ralph Tella, vice president and senior project manager of Lord Associates. The Committee approved the proposal on Monday.
If the project moves ahead as planned, abutters have also asked to be kept involved with the latest developments and for construction not to begin before 7 a.m. during the work week. Craigie tried to reassure them by saying construction wouldn't happen before then and, if it did, that they could call her and she'd make sure it didn't happen again.
At past meetings, parents also were concerned about the proposed redistricting, as , and would become new K-4 districts. The Committee has said it will try to make the transition of children as seamless as possible, but the changes would be necessary to bring the project to fruition.