WVN 23: High School Cost Estimate Reactions
- WAYLAND VOTERS NETWORK
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
-- 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
-- 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
-- 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
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