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Cost, timeline, design for a changed Arlington High emerges

UPDATED, Dec. 19: The winning team to design a new Arlington High School brought a model and slides, offering ideas about what shape the 103-year-old edifice along Mass. Ave. might take. Imaginations, bearing the weight of many numbers and issues, tried to take flight.

Full Nov. 7 presentation by HMFH

Discussion at the high school building committee meeting Tuesday, Nov. 7, yielded a broad cost estimate ($150 million to $200 million), a possible updated timeline for the project, concerns about contamination at the site as well whether enrollment projections need to be revisited.

"To say that we're excited is an understatement," said George Metzger, a project manager for HMFH Architects of Cambridge, chosen last month to design the school. "We want to make sure we are building Arlington's future."

First, numbers and a schedule, and then some flights of architectural fancy.

The estimate of what the project might cost came from Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, who said his team had been working on the matter for 16 months.

When work might occur arose during discussion of a tax-override vote, which committee Chair Jeff Thielman said was expected in spring 2019. With a year needed to prepare, if the vote is successful, construction would begin in summer 2020.

Based on HMFH's experience with revamping Cambridge Rindge & Latin -- a project that has some similarities with the one at AHS -- work on the town's high school would take 30 months, with completion seen in 2022.

HMFH override track record

When the time for an override arrives here, Lori Cowles, a principal with HMFH, told the committee that projects in which her firm has been involved have always passed such a vote.

Whatever happens that far down the road, the HMFH team was out in force to serve up visual tastes of what is to take up the 400,000 square feet of high school, between Mystic Wine and the CVS.

Piece by piece, the 1914 school -- with additions in 1938, 1960 and 1980 -- is expected to come apart and be replaced. Whether the work is renovation or rebuild remains to be determined.

Under a contract totaling $1.15 million, HMFH will soon begin conducting a feasibility study, and those involved expect the MSBA to vote to move the AHS plan to the schematic-design phase at its August meeting.

With "tech people wandering around building" soon, Cowles said they will be investigating from the top reaches to the bowels of the high school so that the architect can learn the current specifics before its team can draw what shape it might become.


A review of existing conditions will include probes into contamination known to lurk below the ground across the 24-acre site. After all, Peirce Field was rebuilt on a contaminated site that had to be capped, a remediated field paid for in this century by industrial partners of industries that existed on Grove Street long ago.

Brian Rehrig, a member of building committee, noted the concern about contamination and wondered at what point the state School Building Authority won't cover the cost involved in removing it.

"Almost immediately," said Chuck Adams of Skanska, the owner's project manager.

All involved have so much to consider besides this issue. In a Nov. 6 letter to the town from Cowles, HMFH will develop educational space after completing "an inclusive visioning process, and ascertain whether to renovate, add onto and renovate, or to build new the high school facility.

"The Schematic Design phase will continue our work on the preferred solution culminating in a Project Scope and Budget Agreement between the Town and MSBA," the state agency that is helping to pay for the work.

Sports fields make up about half of the 24 acres, described as "in excellent condition and heavily used," and they are not expected to change.

A question that remains open is whether the district's administrative offices will remain at the high school. Asked whether this remains the case, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said, "Yes."

Further, the architect will develop programs for Menotomy Preschool, LABBB Collaborative and town offices. For example, Chapdelaine said the town comptroller's, in the basement next to the IT department, is expected to move.

Design for 1,755 students

One aspect appears to be firm. Cowles says in her Nov. 6 letter: "The project's design enrollment is 1,755 students in grades 9-12."

But what if enrollment rises beyond that? Daniel Ruiz, a community member on the board, asked whether the administration would be open to having enrollment consultant Jerome McKibben revisit his numbers?

Bodie said she could consider it.

Chin Lin of HMFH discussed energy efficiency and could point to the success on that point of the Thompson School, opened in 2013, and designed by the Cambridge firm.

Following the feasibility and design periods, Arlington is looking at what Cowles calls "occupied construction." In a series of slides, she illustrated the process of emptying one space, relocating a section of the school elsewhere to a temporary modular structure and building a new piece of the puzzle.

In one slide, a temporary building is shown situated on the practice soccer field behind Stop & Shop. Ironically, that is where ground contamination was found is 1995. That discovery caused the grocery chain not to expand its store and eventually led to legal action, resulting in a restored Peirce Field.

The slide presentation portrayed what the architect's representative called an "agile" classroom, which permits a variety of uses for the same space; maker spaces and STEM facilities; technology that includes interactive applications of virtual reality.

Public involvement expected

To help HMFH learn what Arlington High's identity is, the educational visioning process will involve the public.

Thielman pressed to know when a more engaging public process can begin, and it is expected that will be discussed at the building committee next meeting, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, in the School Committee Room, sixth floor, AHS.

The committee voted unanimously to approve the contract with HMFH. The $1,158,722 breaks down this way -- $427,042 for the feasibility study and $731,680 for schematic design. 

Change-order payments

The committee also voted unanimously to approve a protocol defining how payments on change orders are made.

A memo handed out Nov. 7 says: "In order to process the payment of invoices and approval of change orders in an expeditious manner, the AHS Building Committee has created a Finance Sub-Committee. The current members of the sub-committee are John Cole, Brian Rehrig, John Danizio, and Adam Chapdelaine.

"Proposed below are the thresholds by which we are recommending invoices and change orders be approved. All approvals, regardless of size, will be reported on a monthly basis to the full committee.

"Up to $25,000 - OPM (Skanska) Approval required with notification to the Finance Sub­ Committee

"$25,001-$75,000 - Finance Sub-Committee approval required

"$75,001 and up - Full AHS Building Committee Meeting approval required

Should separate change orders arise that cumulatively exceed the $75,000 threshold, the Finance Sub-Committee may exercise its discretion to approve such change orders if waiting for a meeting of the full committee would either impact the project's schedule or materially increase the cost of the change order.

"In addition to the thresholds proposed above, the Finance Sub-Committee recommends that pro­ rata payments (generally speaking the OPM and Designer Fees) be able to be approved by the Town Manager." 

Official information about the high school building project
Oct. 24, 2017: Designer chosen for revamped Arlington High project
Oct. 4, 2017: 3 finalists chosen to design revamped Arlington High
May 25, 2016: State says Arlington High School rebuild can advance
Feb. 15, 2017: Arlington High School rebuild OK'd for next stage: Is it feasible? 
State Building Authority process >> 

This news summary was published Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, and updated Dec. 19, to clarify timeline about schematic design.

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