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Addressing misconceptions in AHS building project

Kirsi Allison-Ampe is a member of the Arlington High School Building Committee and chair of the School Committee. She writes on behalf of the AHS Building Committee, which can be reached at ahsbuilding[at]arlington.k12.ma.us.

ahs preferred design 62618

 The new high school is a big project and has sparked numerous community conversations. We are glad that it is of interest to so many. However, members of the building committee have seen some misconceptions arise online, and we would like to address them.

The biggest misperception is that the massing diagrams are the final design. Instead, these diagrams are conceptual. The schematic design of the facade, site and interior will be created over the next six months.

We hope you can attend our community forums on October 24 and November 27 to give your input about the future design.

Exterior and site

Claim: The front green will be reduced by three-quarters.

Answer: The site plan is still evolving. Currently the green space along the front of the new school is estimated to be two-thirds the size of the current front green. The building committee is actively seeking ways to increase the amount of green space along Mass. Ave.

Claim: Memorials will discarded.

Answer: The building committee is aware of the memorials in and around the high school. An inventory of all memorials will be created and the Committee will work with the Town to create optimal, respectful treatments for them.

Preschool

Claim: Menotomy Preschool is for children of teachers.

Answer: The Menotomy Preschool is a crucial part of Arlington public schools. It provides state and federally mandated inclusion-based education for Arlington’s preschool students who require special-education services. Without a preschool, we would have to send these students out of district. As required by the state, their education is free. However, an inclusion-based school must have a balance of special-education and general-education students. Children who do not receive special education services pay tuition.

Survey & Community Input

Claims: Attendees at the June forum were united in a desire to retain the original buildings. The June survey said the majority of respondents favored retaining original buildings.

Answers: While a portion of attendees at the June forum publicly voiced desire to retain the original buildings, the feedback from the paper and online survey indicated otherwise. The survey did not ask respondents to rank the design concepts. Rather, respondents rated features of each option individually and their like or dislike of each concept on its own merits. In both surveys, respondents gave Option 3 (the chosen preferred option) more positive ratings than either Option 1 or 2 (concepts which retained the original buildings).

Some have suggested that the majority of respondents favored retaining original buildings. They came to this conclusion by combining the number of "likes" that each option received. Since each option was rated individually, to combine them is an error and a misrepresentation of the survey results.

Cost and Financing

Claim: Debt exclusion debt is compounded annually (i.e., it will increase each year).

Answer: The amount of the debt will be set by the debt exclusion vote. There is no compounding effect of a debt exclusion; the additional tax paid is fixed for the length of the debt.

Claim: The project includes $67 million of offices, which can be omitted to reduce cost.

Answer: The building committee continues to work to allow better cost comparisons with other projects. In a recent spreadsheet, the cost of the core high school is separated from other cost factors. The current cost estimate includes all existing programs and services in the facility today: Town/school offices (payroll, comptroller, facilities, IT, district administration, community education), Menotomy Preschool and the LABBB special-education collaborative program. The estimate also includes factors such as sustainability and complex site conditions. These noncore AHS aspects total $67 million. Though many of the offices are being considered for potential relocation, they make up only a fraction of the additional cost.

[Note: A cost-factors table  (presented at the Sept. 24 forum) gives the breakdown of the original $70 million to $90 million estimate of noncore AHS cost factors. The $67 million is listed as "Costs Unique to AHS." Those costs plus $22.5 million for "Additional programs and services that support the Educational Program" total $90.1 million.]

Claim: The project can be significantly changed without financial repercussions.

Answer: It is not possible to change the preferred design concept at this stage without delaying the project and increasing costs. Significant changes (i.e. retaining original buildings) would require resubmission of our preferred design concept to the Mass. School Building Authority, and we risk being asked to start the process over again. Construction escalation costs for the entire project are estimated at $800,000 per month.

At our September forum, Building Committee Chair Jeff Thielman said it best: “It is very clear that Arlington is united in a collective desire to create a better educational space for our high school students as soon as we possibly can.” But to do this, we have to work with facts. The project website (www.ahsbuilding.org) is updated each week. We share project material, address questions and try to anticipate information that will be of interest. If you see other claims out there that make you wonder, we hope you will contact us, or attend our upcoming forums. Together, we can build a high school for Arlington’s future.


This presentation of opinion and facts was published Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.

What questions do you have about this project? Ask here, in the comment window below. You must provide your full name.

Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong
 

Comments

Guest - Jeff Paykuss on Wednesday, 03 October 2018 17:20
Questions about the answers

Thank you for providing additional input on this proposal. I have questions about 2 of these issues:

The size of the front green--I was in attendance at the last forum at town hall, and I think my issue is how the numbers on the size of the front green are being tossed about a bit without the benefit of measurements. I don't know what the proposed measurements are--but it appears that part of the plan proposed is to add more green on the side of the building instead of maintaining what is up front. This would be attractive on the side of the building but would leave the actual building close to the street. Proposed dimensions of the green would be helpful so people can see how big a reduction this is. Without it, we have to guess, which leads to bad decision making.

The offices and preschool on site--there is no doubt that these facilities are needed, but given the difficulty of the high school site and the need to maximize all the space for the high school, one can ask why it is necessary or smart for us to continue to house these facilities in the high school, and whether this is the most cost-efficient road to take. It is also unclear why spending $67,000,00 in this project on non-Arlington High School facilities is the most efficient use of dollars. It seems like an awful large percentage of the total dedicated to non-core facilities, and I have not yet heard an explanation as to why this is necessary or a good idea.

I think it is very important that the building committee try to answer these questions in order for all of us to know that this plan deserves our full support. I hope they will address these issues at the next forum.

Thank you for providing additional input on this proposal. I have questions about 2 of these issues: The size of the front green--I was in attendance at the last forum at town hall, and I think my issue is how the numbers on the size of the front green are being tossed about a bit without the benefit of measurements. I don't know what the proposed measurements are--but it appears that part of the plan proposed is to add more green on the side of the building instead of maintaining what is up front. This would be attractive on the side of the building but would leave the actual building close to the street. Proposed dimensions of the green would be helpful so people can see how big a reduction this is. Without it, we have to guess, which leads to bad decision making. The offices and preschool on site--there is no doubt that these facilities are needed, but given the difficulty of the high school site and the need to maximize all the space for the high school, one can ask why it is necessary or smart for us to continue to house these facilities in the high school, and whether this is the most cost-efficient road to take. It is also unclear why spending $67,000,00 in this project on non-Arlington High School facilities is the most efficient use of dollars. It seems like an awful large percentage of the total dedicated to non-core facilities, and I have not yet heard an explanation as to why this is necessary or a good idea. I think it is very important that the building committee try to answer these questions in order for all of us to know that this plan deserves our full support. I hope they will address these issues at the next forum.
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