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AHS rebuild update: Some urge more green; $308M called top cost

ahs preferred design 62618

UPDATED, Sept. 26: As an estimated 140 people on Monday, Sept. 24, heard four speakers out of 17 urge more green space along Mass. Ave. after the building committee voted a week earlier to support the current plan for a rebuilt Arlington High School.

The first of four Town Hall forums before a final design is decided next February heard a range of views as well as comment from building committee Chair Jeff Thielman that $308 million, the rough estimate of total project costs, is "the high-water mark." Costs for AHS educational program needs are estimated a: $240.7 million.


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Thielman made clear the committee had built in higher costs. The current plan goes beyond the template for space needs called for by the state School Building Authority as officials are allowing for enrollment growth and expanding other factors. Approved was a plan for 1,755 students.

For example, current plans have the replacement for Lowe Auditorium's 900 seats at 765, but members would like to see 900 in the final product.

Better connections to green space eyed

Some of the costs, an estimated $70 million to $90 million, would pay for a list of offices that are administrative, including town and school. One of these, payroll, may move from the high school Town Hall. For a list of these offices and function and their estimated costs, see the sidebar below.

While a clearer picture of costs is expected by winter, public comment at the first of four forums focused on design.

Dennen Crosby of Boston architect Crosby, Schlessinger, Smallridge  said planned green spaces amount to two-thirds of such current areas and aims to better connect those areas with the new building. She displayed images showing the proposed high school's front preserving all trees all along Mass. Ave.

Planned for two triangular spaces, one on each side of the new school, is a courtyard with an outdoor amphitheater to the left and an outdoor classroom on the right with an outdoor maker-space, eco-garden and a flexible classroom.

AHS Principal Matthew Janger said he is "excited about amphitheater .... [W] need good evening events for students -- concerts, movies." He called the current, interior garden unused and "completely inaccessible."

See these images here (scroll down) >> 

Construction schedule

Jim Burrows, a project manager for Skanska, the international company managing the rebuild, provided a timeline. If an override passes next June, construction to occur between July 2020 and September 2024. Students will remain in the current high school while 18 months of building takes place on the front green, arts and STEAM. Those wings will then be occupied as another 18 months of construction proceeds behind them, on athletics and humanities buildings.

Discussion Sept. 24 contributed public comments that the architect, HMFH, expects to use before unveiling a variety of exterior designs -- at the Oct. 16 building committee and then at the next Town Hall forum, Oct. 24.

How public commented

Here is a summary of what members of the public said in two separate half-hour Q-and-As:

Carl Wagner, a member of Save Our Historic Arlington High School, the group that urges retaining the white columns of the 1938 entrance as well as grassy open space along Mass. Ave., asked how many were present because they feared the loss of open space. About 20 hands went up.

He asked Thielman whether the committee would consider "dramatically changing" the design so the Town Meeting members will support it with a two-thirds vote?

Thielman referred to the unanimous vote Sept. 17 supporting the current footprint design shows "where we stand." He said Option 1 would be more expensive, take longer wasn't in best educational interest of students.

He said the issue should go to voters, who should have the final say.

Why not 'best educational option'?

Patricia Worden, a former member of the School Committee who wants to see the front-yard green and white columns retained, asked why "the best educational option" was not chosen. She was told that what was then called "option 3a," which follows the design approved by the state Aug. 29, 3a emerged as best, for reasons of education, cost and project scheduling.

Janger said school officials consulted with the Mass. Historical Commission found that the not Collumb building was not registered. "The columns are beautiful, and many like them," he said, adding that they are "rotted out."

Chris Loreti, a former member of the Redevelopment Board, asked for more details about nonschool functions now at AHS and whether there is space at the Senior Center, formerly the Central School. Thielman said the MSBA funds functions on school grounds, but not those apart from it. Tiown Manager Adam Chapdelaine, who was away, would have to respond to the second query.

Who got applause

Public commenters drew applause. Among them was a woman named Laura Notman, an architect, who urged preservation of the front green. "It's not just a high school space -- it's a community space." 

Another said, to applause: "Arlington on has no [town] common," citing how Mass. Ave. cuts through the town. Other high schools, in Winchester, Lexington and Belmont, are not on main streets.

John Worden, the former longtime Town Meeting moderator, called the current plan to divide the greenery as a "jigsaw puzzle" thrown on the floor.

In response, to the expectation that the rebuilt school will be heated by gas, he cited the recent explosions in the Merrimack Valley.

Barbara Thornton, a member of Town Meeting and capital planning, gave personal stories, urging official be wary of designs "so vastly different than what people expected .... We want this to go through .... Hope all on building committee listen."

Another asked how officials determined an AHS enrollment of 1,755. Superintendent Kathy Bodie that, after looking at much data and working with the MSBA on this issue, she the number is "doable" and that the extra space [beyond the state agency's template] will make a big difference."

Yet another woman made a plea to the architect: Try to minimize the sound after football games, which she said is so loud.

Voices of moderation

Steven Liggett, a Town Meeting member, said his memory of the June 4 forum, in which the public was invited to choose its favored design option among four, was that the majority supported green space. His next comment, though, appeared to call for a balance of goals:

"Build a school for our children," he said.

"This is a hard problem .... We have opinions, but they are not as informed" as those of the building committee

"When something's gotta give, make priorities," he said to loud applause.

Alan Jones, vice chair of the town Finance Committee, admitted the expected price tag for a rebuilt AHS "comes massive sticker shock .... We don't need to lose any votes." He urged flexibility in the design stage, adding, "Let's find a win-win."

Summary of AHS Building project preferred option and associated cost factors

Core high school educational program (includes all academic programs and services currently): $218,200,000

Additional programs and services that support the educational program (a top-rated high school with growing enrollment, Arlington has program, service and resource needs that are beyond MSBA's basic high school template; examples include larger classrooms, larger library and stage as well as maintaining our 900 seat auditorium and athletic spaces): $22,500,000

Subtotal of costs unique to AHS: $67,600,000

Subtotal core AHS educational program needs: $240,700,000

Mandated special-educational programs and services (town's mandated inclusive, special-education preschool as well as the LABBB special-education collaborative program for Lexington, Arlington, Burlington, Bedford and Belmont school districts reside in the facility): $20,600,000

Education-related operations (offices for school district administration and Arlington Community Education, as well as town/school IT offices and equipment reside in the facility)*: $12,000,000

Other administrative functions (town-school comptroller, payroll and facilities offices and resources reside in the facility)*: $5,000,000

Sustainability features (AHS Building Committee has set a goal to build a net-zero facility to help reduce future operating costs and carbon footprint): $23,000,000

Site requirements (site contamination and toilet facility; added work will be required due to existing site conditions and contamination): $7,000,000

Core AHS educational program needs: $240,700,000

Costs unique to AHS: $67,600,000

Total estimated project cost: $308,300,000

* Spaces are being evaluated for potential relocation.

Note: Values are based on estimates included in the preferred schematic report dated 7/11/18 and are derived from square foot cost. Values include soft cost, which is any costs associated with architectural, consultant fees and contingencies. Final budgets will not be determined and are subject to change until a project scope and budget is approved by the Mass. School Building Authority.


Here are three presentations from the Sept. 24 forum:

Arlington High School Building Committee >> 
Skanska, the company managing the project >> 
HMFH, the project architect >> 

Sept. 5, 2018: AHS rebuild design raises questions, but process has just begun

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 Tuesday, Sept. 25, and updated Sept. 26, to add a last name and video link.

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