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AHS rebuild committee directs architect to work with tradition

Principal asks that HMFH not be 'held back'

UPDATED, Dec. 7: The Arlington High School Building Committee voted Tuesday, Dec. 4, to follow the lead of a community survey and direct Cambridge architect HMFH to pursue option A, the more traditional exterior design for a rebuilt school.

option a 400 112018Option A, the more traditional of three Arlington High designs, got the nod Dec. 4. / HMFH Architects

Comments by members show they favored less traditional schematics, but, overall, they chose to abide by the community poll.

In a survey completed by 1,442 respondents, option A received a 3.45 overall rating, option B 2.76 and option C, the least traditional, 2.93.


Opposition fliers in '75 vote >>

AHS Principal Matthew Janger offered a strong appeal, urging the architect not to feel constrained by the choice. "We have a talented architect," he said, suggesting that the concept chosen can "grow if you don't hold them back too much."

He reflected comments from other committee members who downplayed the importance of external appearance in favor of focusing on the education taking place inside the building.

Fading blueprints from the '70s

Janger also pointed to fading blueprints from the mid-1970s arrayed on tables behind him. They showed plans for an AHS that was not renovated after voters rejected them in 1975. He said $19 million was sought and would have paid for, apart from educational features, a pool, tennis courts and a hockey rink. According to an online calculator, the amount sought would be about $90 million in today's dollars.

As to current costs, building committee Chairman Jeff Thielman reiterated that the project's expected highest amount remains as it has been for months, at $308 million. A more fine-grained discussion about costs began Dec. 4, but haltingly. More details are expected at the committee's next meeting, 6 p.m. Dec. 18. 

As for the survey, read the Dec. 4 summary >> 

Culled by committee members Amy Speare and Kirsi Allison-Ampe, the results include these highlights:

-- 75 percent responded that they like the front green and 14 percent dislike the traffic flow;

-- Whether to reuse or recreate current elements, respondents were split: 30 percent each for important, less important and irrelevant;

-- 3 percent filled out the survey at the forum and 97 percent online;

-- Support for a new building ran 115 to 43; and

-- The proposed bikeway connection drew 88 percent support.

Exterior-design direction

Lori Cowles, HMFH principal architect, asked for committee marching order about which of three concepts, unveiled Nov. 20, and discussed at the Nov. 28 forum, to shape the design.

She said she is "not pretending to make 1938 columns something different" than they are. She pointed out that the current clock tower, at 100 feet high, is "daunting" if brought too close to Mass. Ave. and that the proposed DLab "would not want to be a three-story space."

She remarked on the existing entrance for "its civicness," noting that the Boston State House on a hill and the AHS columns mimicking those on Beacon Hill are not.

Comments about design

Among comments from committee members are these:

Sandy Pooler, the deputy town manager, was blunt: "I don't care about the columns." He said his alma mater, Dartmouth, mixed traditional and modern architecture, choosing not to "recreate what was built in 1769."

He said he leaned toward option C, the least tradition. He joked that he would "shave the eyebrow," the high canopy at the entrance.

Jud Pierce, an attorney and a former School Committee member, said he originally like A, but has turned toward C. He students have said they wanted a school with more natural light and areas for team collaboration. "The amphitheater will be a jewel," he said. "I'd like to see more glass."

John Cole, an architect and a former chair of the town building committee, personally prefers B, but knows the community prefers A, which "would solve a lot of issues." He said he looks for a "more interpretative use of columns at front."

Noting MIT as an example, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said a school's "exterior does not necessarily describe what is going on inside."

She called A "closer to what people like to see." She complimented HMFH for being "so responsive."

Allison-Ampe, a School Committee member, said she prefers C first and would like the columns inside a larger courtyard.

Frank Sullivan said he "gravitated to A right way." Kate Loosian said she seeks a cost-effective design and supports A.

Ryan Katofsky said he likes the openness of B as well as the wings and the auditorium. Even so, he was leaning toward a vote for A.

Dan Ruiz, an architect, said he gravitate toward modern design and other elements of option A are "not there yet."

"I'm very excited about the education behind this building," Janger said. He said he likes A and C best. While leaning toward A, he said he has a "trepidation": He does not want the new school to look like a "reaction" to the earlier design.

Thielman asked Cowles to shape the design by imagining what it is like for 14-year-old walking into school for the first time. He likes the entrance in B and sees community support for A.

For Cowles, she called the current AHS "not welcoming."

At-risk manager, costs

In other business, the committee heard a presentation about having the construction manager follow at at-risk procedure and then voted unanimously to do so.

"This is the way to do it," Cole said, noting the process was followed for the rebuilt Gibbs School. It was "a dream," he said.

During the Finance Subcommittee update, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine discussed a sheet dated Dec. 4 listing potential project savings. Two listed, the comptroller's office and the Facilities Department, total $4 million. Both are to be moved from AHS. Two others under review, the IT network and payroll, total $4 million.

Bodie plans to provide explanations about a list of such spaces, possibly totaling $70 million.

In addition, the administration seeks to provide an apples-to-apples comparisons to other recent school projects in the region.

These issues may be part of the discussion of costs on Dec. 18.

Also to be discussed then is the use the Peirce practice field for parking. On Dec. 5, Chapdelaine issued a memo about that, laying out the reasons for the need and the town's efforts to seek alternative fields. Read the memo >> 

The next public forum is set for Jan. 14, from 7 to 9 p.m. and Town Hall.


Nov. 30, 2018: Fears about cost may divide town, but numbers face more scrutiny

Nov. 10, 2018: AHS design discussion turns to interior ideas, and reaction is positive
Nov. 7, 2018, opinion: Let's keep working toward an AHS design compromise
Sept. 25, 2018: AHS rebuild update: Some urge more green; $308M called top cost
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  

This news summary was published Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, and updated Dec. 7, to add link.

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