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AHS Building Committee prepares to focus on its visions

what if 400An imagined cut-away drawing by HMFH Architects of Cambridge showing how an interior of a new Arlington High might look.

UPDATED: The reimagining of Arlington High School is underway, with many questions and likely many revisions before plans take shape.

A kickoff community forum was set for Thursday, Jan. 4, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Town Hall. It was postponed to Jan. 11. For added details, see

The high school building committee decided Tuesday, Dec. 5, to meet again in two weeks to flesh out a schedule of meetings involving the public.

Ready to flex your imagination? Be ready to brace how you envision to a revamped high school against the realities of what the state will allow.

Chuck Adam, the project manager who works for Skanska, the multinational construction company, welcomed both sides of the coin after committee member Sandy Pooler put in perspective about an hour's worth of discussion.

"We need to understand what implications of milestones are," he said, referring to what the state School Building Authority will permit at each step of the process. The state agency holds the purse strings controlling how much money the town can spend on a project that could cost $200 million.

In the absence of Chairman Jeff Thielman, and in view of Vice Chair Kathy Bodie's cold, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine ran the Dec. 5 meeting.

3 visioning sessions planned for new year

Lori Cowles, a principal at HMFH Architects, the Cambridge firm chosen to design the high school, discussed how to get volunteers involved in visioning, or the process to attract ideas about how the high school -- and the educational environment inside it -- might change.

Quote bar, redfrom 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' by T.S. Eliot
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
Quote bar, red

She made clear that those participating in three four-hour visioning sessions in the new year should expect to attend all for the entire time.

Discussion among members suggested a broad range of participants, but some said membership should be weighted toward those in education, both teachers and administrators.

School Committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe emphasized the importance of educating the public about the state School Building Authority process. You can get idea about that by reviewing the steps shown on this site >> 

Adam, who you might assume is just a nuts-and-bolts construction guy, made clear that his experience brings a broader expertise: He said that all involved needed to be aware of how educational process shapes a final building.

"That is the front line," Chapdelaine said.

Building design, education

Committee member Dan Ruiz, who said he "disagreed a bit," made a point not far from Adam's -- that the key aim of the educational visioning sessions won't be to develop a building design -- but how the design can contribute to resulting educational successes.

Two days after the meeting, Ruiz explained that, while there isn't a direct design effort in educational visioning, that process remains is very important to inform the district's educational plan -- a required element that later guides the architects toward how the building might begin to be organized.

For example, he wrote to YourArlington, the educational plan should inform the design team about important connections among program elements that are important to this district in terms of how they want to teach. The visioning sessions might also identify educational-delivery concepts, stressing learning communities or wanting to have collaboration spaces may be a main focus for the educators.

The state authority will check the design against the educational plan. For more about this, click here >>

Expected questions

At the Dec. 5 meeting, Dr. Matt Janger, AHS principal, said he is confident that teachers and administrators can have the conversation about vision, despite the emergence of expected questions, including those who want the building to have "a certain look."

The committee has already heard from a group of people who wants to include an indoor swimming pool in the project, a request that the state funding agency would not grant.

Committee member John Cole, also a longtime member of the Permanent Building Committee, which is involved in all town building projects, wants to see a milestone schedule that "gets us to the end of the process."

Community member Kate Loosian offered that one public forum is not enough and that more should be planned.

Firmer schedule expected

The discussion led Chapdelaine to propose arriving at a firmer proposed schedule for discussion Dec. 19. A public statement explaining the meetings should not be a list of dates but include the rationale behind the visioning process, a number of participants said.

As an example of an effort that might lead to changes in the high school vision, Janger pointed to ACMi's Studio B, across Mass. Ave., as a potential resource as yet unrealized. He hoped that those in charge at the cable-TV station would participate in upcoming visioning.

Chapdelaine asked at what point does the state lock in reimbursement rate, and Cowles called that a "moving target."

Under new business, Chapdelaine followed up a question by Ruiz asking when should the committee discuss where the high school project should take place.

"That should be now," Adam said. No one has yet proposed that the high school might be anywhere other than its location since 1914.

Asking basic questions

"Who is making sure these questions are asked?" Janger asked, and committee member Brian Rehrig followed up: "What functions will be in this building? How will decisions be made?"

Chapdelaine said: "As a town, we need to decide."

As activity ramps up, the full committee plans to hold two meetings a month, the first and third Tuesdays. The next session is set for 19 at 6 p.m. in the School Committee Room.

Educational program visioning will be discussed that evening. Dates for visioning sessions in January and February will be firmed up with specific details and opportunities for community input. 

Official information about the high school building project
Full Nov. 7 presentation by HMFH
Nov. 11, 2017: Cost, timeline, design for a changed Arlington High emerges
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 Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, and updated to add Jan. 4 forum. 

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