AHS rebuild design raises questions, but process has just begun

ahs preferred design 62618Footprint design by HMFH Architects of Cambridge.

UPDATED, Sept. 6: Some want to preserve the white columns and grassy space in front of Arlington High School. Some worry about costs. Others fear missing the shot to rebuild the 104-year-old school, tied to a taxpayer vote next June.

Lori Cowles, a principal for project architect HMFH, offered some perspective about design later at the Sept. 4 building-committee meeting: "We're going to do a lot of work in the next six months, but we are not going to be done."

She explained that the creative process is reiterative and counseled patience. By late January, the team is expected to provide a design for a rebuilt high school that is expected to be done enough to send to the state agency providing project funds. That is to occur in February.

Leaders look ahead to design, cost challenges

The state School Building Authority (MSBA) board voted Aug. 29 to approve Arlington’s preferred option, once called option 3A, which the AHS Building Committee approved in late June and affirmed July 10. That vote moves AHS into the next phase of the years-long rebuilding process, called schematic design.

Bottom line: Through the fall and into winter, the design process remains flexible.

The next community forum at Town Hall about the high school project is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Among 20 people in the audience Sept. 4 were members of Save Our Historic Arlington High School. The group, begun by Town Meeting member Carl Wagner after he sent a letter to the MSBA in July. That letter urges retaining the white columns of the 1938 entrance as well as grassy open space along Mass. Ave.

Four addressing the committee were initial organizers of the group -- Chris Mungenast, Patricia Seitz, Ron Alex and Wagner.

Praise, questions

They praised the committee for its work but expressed support for retaining the building's historical features and green front. The wanted to know how the decision to remove those features in the design sketch approved June 26 occurred. A petition from the group has 184 supporters as of 5 p.m. Sept. 5. >>

Wagner, a 1987 AHS graduate whose daughter is a student, made clear the new group favors the project but fears the project may not have enough Town Meeting and resident support.

Under rules for public participation, committee members do not respond immediately to citizen comment, but later in the meeting, committee member John Cole, suggested to Cowles that in the next public release of a schematic design, the white columns be included, to show their location.

While many of the speakers focused on design, Chris Loreti homed in on the total project cost. The former Redevelopment Board member called the current estimate of $308 million "way too high," saying it would be the most expensive ever built in state on a per-student basis ($175,000 each) -- and possibly in the nation.

Citing school projects in Wellesley and Concord-Carlisle, which he said were less expensive, he said Arlington officials "should be looking to halving the cost." On Sept. 5, he sent the committee a spreadsheet comparng costs of those at Winchester and estimates for Arlington High. See that spreadsheet here >>  

Other comments

Patricia Worden, a longtime Town Meeting member and former elected town official, displayed a photo showing the school's white columns and made reference to the 1975 ballot question, which would have rebuilt AHS at the time. The measure was voted down.

Kristen Fritsch, who works in sustainability, suggested using geothermal and pursuing energy modeling, which has yet to be applied to the project. She encouraged renovation.

A man who said he daughter began that day as a freshman urged support for the project: "Take a deep breath, step back and think about the kids."

After public participation ended 32 minutes after the 6 p.m. meeting began, Jim Burroughs of Skanska, the developer, said the aim is to seek approval of the schematic design from the MSBA in April.

The committee discussed a traffic study at some length. Suggested is possibly adding new signal at Millbrook and Mill, the access way to the rear of AHS. Cole raised the possibility of a signal at Grove Street, depending on whether an access way from the high school through the DPW Yard might be established.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine indicated that it remains to be seen whether the DPW project includes vehicle access from AHS.

Dropoff, bikeway, lifestyles

The traffic study includes suggestions about many places to drop off students, including near bikeway, which would have improved access to AHS.

Committee member Ryan Katofsky suggested that changes in lifestyles could prove factors. They would involve future changes in student driving, walking and cycling habits. "What if kids take Uber?" he asked.

The evening's discussion returned to an overall cost estimate only briefly. Cowles said members would be getting to those "down the road," which means late January or early February.

The vote that the committee holds on the final design could be Feb. 12. The timing be dictated, in part, by the state submission deadline, Feb. 22.

Then, the MSBA would have an internal review period from Feb. 25 through March 18. Finally, the MSBA board would meet in early April to vote on the schematic design and to move forward with a project scope and budget agreement.

The town then has 120 days after the MSBA board vote to secure funding for the project. The public debt-exclusion vote is expected to be in June. A specific date has not been set.

 For information about Arlington’s preferred option and FAQs, click here >> 

Aug. 29: AHS rebuild approved to move on to schematic design stage

June 26, 2018: DESIGN CHOSEN: High school to be rebuilt, not renovated
June 6, 2018: AHS rebuild process moves toward one design by end of June
 Official information about the high school building project  
June 7, 2018: Official summary of June 4 meeting
April 13, 2018: Town manager clarifies costs for new AHS: It's still early
March 7, 2018: THIRD FORUM: 100 tour AHS, look into future; hear flexibility touted
Jan. 12, 2018: 125 attend as public process to launch AHS update underway
Dec. 20, 2017: Could new AHS be built elsewhere in town? 4 sites suggested
Dec. 12, 2017: AHS Building Committee prepares to focus on its visions'
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 Wednesday, Sept. 5, and updated Sept. 6, to clarify a number.

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