Next Up For Elementary School Building Project: Designer Selection

Aerial Mp of Wildwood School site showing sharp contours indicating a slope which may make it less suitable as a site for geothermal and solar. Photo: Amherst Maps

At their meeting on July 1, the Elementary School Building Committee voted unanimously (with one member absent) to approve a Request for Services (RFS) for a design firm. A draft of the RFS had been submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for review on June 16 and was returned with only minor comments, according to the Town’s project manager, Margaret Wood of Anser Advisory. 

Wood confirmed that Amherst secured a slot at the MSBA’s September 14 Designer Selection Panel (DSP) meeting which will likely allow Amherst to have a design firm on board in October. Wood reported that the MSBA will advertise the RFS in the Central Register on July 21 and applications will be due August 18. The Central Register is the weekly source for information about state, county and municipal contracts being put out to bid for the design, construction and reconstruction of public facilities in Massachusetts. 

Wood expects the RFS to attract 8-10 applicants, three of which will be shortlisted at the September 14 meeting, she said. Superintendent Michael Morris, School Committee member (and Assistant School Facilities Director) Ben Herrington, and Town Manager Paul Bockelman or his designee will represent Amherst on the 15-member DSP. 

Interviews of the shortlisted applicants are scheduled for the DSP’s October 5 meeting, coincidentally the same day the School Committee has scheduled a vote on moving sixth grade to the middle school, a change expected to be implemented for fall 2022. According to the timeline in the RFS, a contract for design services will be signed by October 8, allowing the feasibility study to begin. 

At the Town Council meeting on June 28, Building Committee Chair and District One Councilor Cathy Schoen gave a verbal update to supplement a written report on the committee’s progress to date. Council President Lynn Griesemer asked at what point the Town Council will get to weigh in on selection of the site for a consolidated school. 

“There may be a reason that the Council would prefer the use of one site or the other [Fort River or Wildwood], for reasons not related to the school,” Griesemer said. The Indy reached out to Griesmer for clarification and asked what her reasons are for selecting one site over the other, but did not hear back by press time. 

Town Manager Paul Bockelman responded that, while he expected “the School Committee and the Council would definitely want to weigh in on [site selection],” it is the building committee that will ultimately decide the location of a consolidated school. 

Reporting on an MSBA-run webinar she had attended in May called “Demystifying Net Zero Energy,” Schoen said that in several towns that were working toward constructing a net-zero-energy school, the suitability of the site for geothermal and solar played into the site decision. Schoen said the results of geotechnical engineering studies will be a factor when weighing the “pluses and minuses” of the Fort River and Wildwood sites. 

In the webinar, which was not recorded for future broadcast, panelists from Massachusetts school districts, architects planning new net zero schools, mechanical engineers, environmental specialists, and energy industry representatives shared with attendee school districts what they needed to know to examine the possibilities of net zero and understand how to pay for it. 

Previous articles on the elementary school building project can be read here, here, and here.

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