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24WVN 23: High School Cost Estimate Reactions

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  • waylandvoters
    Jul 11, 2004
    • 0 Attachment
      July 11, 2004

      Dear Wayland Voter,

      With the temporary absence of Margo Melnicove, this edition of
      the Wayland Voters Network online newsletter has been written
      by subscribers Tom Sciacca and Michael Short, reporting on the
      School Committee meeting of July 7 and the High School
      Building Committee Forum of July 8, respectively.

      School Committee Meeting Wednesday, July 7, 2004

      This meeting of the SC, which was scheduled with short notice,
      was held primarily to discuss the High School building project,
      and obviously triggered by the unexpectedly high cost estimates
      of approximately $55M first revealed by the Project Manager the
      previous Thursday. New chair Lori Frieling led off by announcing
      that letters had been sent to all local legislators and the exact
      language of the new SBA legislation should be known by the end
      of July. There is great uncertainty in the amount and eligibility for
      SBA before 2007, and a mismatch between the Senate and
      House bills. Representative Pope and Senator Brown are
      working hard to resolve the issue.

      Member Bob Gordon continued the discussion by stating his
      opinion that as we get closer to the return of SBA it becomes
      less reasonable to turn our backs on the money and not wait.
      "What I'm willing to do for a reimbursable project is different
      than for a non-reimbursable project", he said. "The number last
      week is not unacceptable if we have 30% reimbursement."

      Honored guest (or lady on the hot seat?) Lea Anderson, head of
      the High School Building Committee, objected to the
      assumption that the numbers that have given everyone "sticker
      shock" were the final product of the HSBC. She said the HSBC
      had "kicked the tires", laid out the current educational program
      moving forward with more kids, but was nowhere near done.
      "We're only halfway through our work", she said.

      Several members raised the issue of prioritization, which was
      required in the language of the Town Meeting motion last fall
      which established the HSBC. Superintendent Gary Burton
      responded "I will resist trying to prioritize which program is more
      important." Trying to choose among pieces of the program is like
      "trying to choose among your children", he said. "You love them
      all. Some people think science labs are most important, but we
      are very proud of our fine arts program."

      Gordon commented that the issue with the high cost estimates
      is not a matter of affordability but of political acceptability,
      because "We will float bonds and pay for it over a long period of
      time, and we can borrow whatever we want."

      Anderson interjected that Wayland has fine arts and athletics
      programs bigger than any other school that has been built
      recently in the area. That drives up costs.

      Member Heather Pineault contributed the comment that
      "Personally, I'm not freaking out over the (cost) numbers." But
      she thinks prioritization should be discussed next. Bringing a
      $56M project to the town would probably result in failure, she

      Member Jeff Dieffenbach contributed "If we just come to the town
      recommending spending for life, safety, and academics we're
      really not doing our job." Burton responded that he agreed.

      "At some point I believe we will have to supply a top down
      number to manage to, but we can't do that until we know the
      status of SBA. But I would be willing to sacrifice 30% of $2.5M for
      design costs to move the project ahead a year", said Gordon,
      referring to the architectural and engineering work which would
      precede actual construction.

      Turning attention to the schedule, Dieffenbach asked that since
      they can't make November (for a ballot question), and it now
      looks like April, could they slow down a bit (thereby allowing
      more time for resolution of the SBA question). Anderson and
      member Fred Knight responded that there were some issues
      with the professional (architect and project manager) contracts,
      but there was some slack.

      Returning to the prioritization issue, Burton stated "If you are
      asking to prioritize programs, you won't get the highest level of
      cooperation from the educators." However, the committee asked
      him to look at the issue of prioritizing program requirements and
      report back by August 2. Dieffenbach mentioned three levels:
      academic & code compliance, nonacademic areas, and lastly
      the common spaces.

      The discussion concluded with the Committee charging the
      HSBC to not narrow the three options down to one until they
      meet with the School Committee on 8/2.

      HSBC Forum July 8

      Wayland voters said they were surprised that the High School
      Building Committee presented three options for renovation and
      construction but essentially only one price -- more than $50
      million. And a Massachusetts official estimated that new state
      legislation to restore state construction aid wouldn't permit
      Wayland to apply for reimbursement until 2007. More than 400
      school projects will get attention first.

      An estimated 150 people attended the High School Building
      Committee forum, the first chance for taxpayers to present
      comments and questions without strict time limits. It was taped
      for broadcast at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 14, on the Wayland
      cable channel, and will presumably run uncut at nearly 3-1/2
      hours. The broadcast of the July 1 HSBC meeting was cut off
      before the public comment period.

      Presentations by HMFH Architects and Turner Construction Co.
      were streamlined versions of those given at the July 1 meeting.
      The firms presented three options, varying considerably in
      convenience and esthetics but not in cost: $56.11 million, $55.49
      million, $53.98 million. We'll skip specifics here because most
      of the discussion that followed was about funding and whether
      to explore more than three proposals. The HSBC website
      provides details of the plans.

      Why is the most expensive choice only about 4 percent above the
      least expensive? The architects explained that their mandate
      from the HBSC was to carry out the "educational needs"
      presented by the school administration, not to outline a range of
      budgets. Those needs included a projected increase in
      enrollment from the present 881 to more than 1000.

      Teachers overwhelmingly asked for more classroom space,
      Principal Charlie Ruopp explained. The requirements presented
      to HMFH called for less space than the faculty asked for, said
      Ruopp, who argued that the expansion/renovation was basically
      a way to continue the excellent educational programs for which
      Wayland is known. Because Wayland has a high rate of
      participation in athletics and other extracurricular activities,
      "educational needs" include those activities.

      At HSBC's invitation deputy Massachusetts treasurer Jeff Sterns
      outlined the latest prospect for construction assistance from the
      state. School Building Assistance (SBA) has since 1948
      reimbursed cities and towns for part of school construction
      costs. Reimbursement percentages vary widely, and there has
      been no reimbursement at all in the recent years of
      Massachusetts' budget difficulties. In fact 424 projects,
      representing $4.2 billion in reimbursement, are on the state's
      waiting list. All have been designed, approved by voters and
      given permits; half are under construction. (Wayland is owed
      about $4 million in reimbursement for previous school projects.)

      Massachusetts Senate and House committees are ironing out
      differences in bills to restore SBA. There are indications that Gov.
      Romney could sign what is billed as a "reform" as early as the
      end of July. Only then will we know what the rules are. For
      example, will unsafe buildings be given priority? Wayland's
      buildings lack full handicapped access and are not completely
      up to current building codes, but they are structurally sound.

      Sterns said he saw no reason why Wayland's application would
      be treated differently from others simply because the buildings
      had already been finished. Proceed and hope, as Sterns
      described the process. Under new legislation bonding might be
      done over 30 years, he said, which would lower the per-year
      burden on taxpayers.

      Sterns estimated that reimbursement rates will probably be at
      least 10 percent below previous levels. Wayland School
      Committee members have talked of 30 percent reimbursement
      and HSBC Chair Lea Anderson has said, "I personally think that
      this project is going nowhere without (state) funding."

      What follows is a summary of ideas presented by citizens, in
      some cases followed by comments from School Committee and
      HSBC members and representatives of HMFH and Turner, not
      necessarily made in direct response.

      -- I did a rough calculation of the effect that new debt of more
      than $50 million would have on my taxes. It would add about
      $1500 a year to my bill. That is an awful lot of money to ask
      people to pay year after year. I just don't think the voters can
      afford this.

      -- We are surprised that there are only three options at about the
      same price. A 2002 town study discussed options ranging from
      a complete new school estimated at $48.9 million to deferred
      maintenance and code upgrade at $11.69 million. Why so few
      options and so high a price?

      Lea Anderson: "First estimates are often disappointing." She
      emphasized that after one of the options is chosen the two firms
      will be directed to refine the proposal.

      -- I thought the committee was supposed to consider priorities. If
      it's not possible to build everything, what are the absolutely
      essential things?

      -- I took the tour of the school before this meeting. This place is
      in better shape physically than when I was a student here.
      (Some renovations were done in 1991.) But what makes
      Wayland a great school is a great faculty. Continue to pay the
      teachers what they're worth and you'll continue to have a
      great school. Whenever there is a vacancy in the Wayland
      system, teachers flock to apply.

      Charlie Ruopp: That's not entirely true anymore. And we have
      teachers leaving the system.

      -- I have seen other towns that decide they just have to build new
      school buildings. They go deeply into debt and the next thing you
      know they're laying off teachers. That's the end of a good
      school system.

      -- You talk about simply maintaining existing education
      programs. But you propose a 46 percent increase in square
      footage, far more than the population increase. Why so much

      Responses from various sources: 1)We have to make room for
      more students; 2) We should build at state SBA standards (750
      net square feet per classroom) to be eligible for reimbursement;
      3) teachers need more space because of new ways of teaching.

      -- The new Wayland Master Plan calls for at least eight very
      expensive projects to be completed or at least started within five
      years. Some projects may not be optional but forced by events
      (basic infrastructure involving water or waste, for example). Have
      you considered the high school project in the context of the entire

      -- If you decide that the taxpayers won't vote for $50 million in
      faith-based borrowing, with no guarantee of reimbursement,
      would you then consider a plan to build just one or two of the
      proposed buildings? (Option 2 calls for a 28,000 square foot
      general purpose classroom building at $4.18 million and a
      28,800 square foot science building at $5.18 million). That would
      relieve some of the population pressure, show the faculty and
      students you care, and present a chance to get state
      reimbursement after 2007. Would people go for a $10 million
      plan without a reimbursement guarantee?

      -- Your argument for an 850-seat auditorium is that the current
      300-seat Little Theater requires more performances of plays and
      concerts. Let me tell you that it is disheartening for children to
      play to a mostly empty house. Furthermore, have you ever heard
      of a performer asking for shorter run? Besides, the new theater
      at the Middle School was designed to serve larger town needs.
      The High School has already held concerts there.

      -- The high school population is expected to peak in 2007,
      probably before the new project is completed. Could this just be
      a bubble?

      Lea Anderson: Our projections are that, while there will be slight
      changes one way or the other, the school population will remain
      roughly constant for years to come. (See Appendix A of the new
      Master Plan for an analysis. Some projections call for a slight
      decline in population between now and 2020.)

      -- I have done college admissions interviews. Colleges don't
      base admissions on school facilities.


      July 15. Regular meeting of the committee but with extended
      time for public comment. An email on the HSBC website
      announced a change in location from the Town Building to the
      L1 language building at the High School, the site of the July 8

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove, Chair