Override Vote For School Project Targeted For November 2022

Photo: Nick Youngson/pix4free. Creative Commons. Property tax by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free

A debt-exclusion override to fund a new elementary school would be on the November 2022 ballot in Amherst if a proposed project schedule can be met. The ballot measure, which would allow for a time-limited increase in property taxes, was part of a timeline presented to the Elementary School Building Committee on June 9 by Margaret Wood, the Owner’s Project Manager for the elementary school initiative.

Wood outlined the next steps for the committee, starting with writing a Request For Services (RFS) for a designer (architect). She proposed writing the RFS in June with a goal of having the applicants presented at an August meeting of the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s (MSBA) Designer Selection Panel. This would enable a designer to be on board in September. 

While Wood will be the primary author of the RFS, she urged the committee to view the writing process as an opportunity to develop a common understanding of the project and ensure it captures the town’s priorities. Committee member Jonathan Salvon agreed that committee input in the RFS is critical. “It is our only opportunity to frame locally-important issues,” Salvon said. The town is allowed only three representatives on the 15-person designer selection panel.

A Building Committee meeting agenda posted the next day, however, said they will review, revise, and vote on a final RFS to be submitted to the MSBA by June 16, far quicker than Wood had suggested. 

In response to an email from the Indy asking why the timeline for writing the RFS had been brought forward, committee Chair Cathy Schoen said that when Wood contacted the MSBA after the meeting, she learned that the designer selection panel meetings in August were already booked up. If Amherst wished to secure a slot at the September 14 meeting, the RFS would need to be submitted to the MSBA right away. If the committee can meet the MSBA deadlines and secure approval, the earliest Amherst could have a designer on board is October. 

Wood said she expects the project will attract a lot of interest from designers. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you get eight, nine, or even 10 applications,” she said. 

One issue expected to be emphasized in the RFS is that the building must be built to net-zero energy standards. A town bylaw, passed in 2018, stipulates that all new municipal construction must meet net-zero energy targets, which means the building will be fossil-fuel-free and highly energy-efficient, with sufficient on-site power generation through renewable sources to meet all the building’s energy needs. The school project could be the first town-owned net-zero building.

Schoen told the committee that, on a call with the MSBA on June 7 to approve the town’s choice of project manager, the MSBA representatives were enthusiastic about Amherst’s goal of constructing a net-zero energy school building.  

Once a design firm is on board, Wood said the feasibility study phase can begin, which she estimated could take about four months since much of the building and site assessment work has already been done at both Fort River and Wildwood. Wood suggested they include a question in the RFS about whether the designer would be willing to rely on some of the data already gathered. 

At the completion of the feasibility phase, the committee will have identified a minimum of three possible building options and, after engaging the community with public forums or other means, will select their preferred option. Wood said the important thing at that point is to ensure they have a good sense that the community is behind the preferred option. 

At completion of the next phase (schematic design), the chosen design will have been developed in sufficient detail to establish the scope, budget, and schedule for the proposed project. It is hoped the MSBA would approve the project in August 2022 after which community engagement efforts would ramp up in advance of an override vote in November 2022. Elections for town-wide office occur bi-annually in off-years, so the override vote would coincide with the national mid-term election but not with Town Council or School Committee elections. 

Ballpark estimates for the Town’s portion of the school project (after state reimbursement) have been in the $30 million to $40 million range, depending on a number of factors including whether it would be addition/renovation or all new construction. 

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8 thoughts on “Override Vote For School Project Targeted For November 2022

  1. How unique to give residents three design options!! Wonder why no one thought of this for other Town projects?

  2. Hilda, I think it is an MSBA requirement. While a Building Committee has to develop three options, what we saw last time around was there was really only one that the Committee ever planned to pursue, even when it became clear that the community was not behind it.

    This time, while I expect there will only be a cursory, MSBA-mandated nod to a design for a 320-student K-6 Fort River, I do hope the Committee will fully explore an addition/renovation/demolition option for the 575-student K-5 as well as an all-new-construction option. It could be as much as $10 million cheaper than all-new construction, and cost has to be a factor in weighing up options. Last time, renovation was never truly considered while the Committee maintained it would cost the same as new.

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