Report On The Meeting of the Elementary School Building Committee, June 3, 2022
This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.
All committee members were present.
This meeting followed up on some of the concerns about both the Fort River and Wildwood sites raised at previous Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC) meetings. In addition, the committee received more detailed cost comparisons for each site.
Although Wildwood school has more neighborhoods in the vicinity, and Fort River is bordered by busier streets, in reality, very few children walk to school. Superintendent Mike Morris said that school bus transport is provided to over 90% of students, more than legally required, because of busy intersections near both schools. Therefore, this is not a substantial difference between the sites.
Phasing of Construction More Complicated At Wildwood
Tim Cooper of DiNisco Design presented the phased construction plans for each site. Because of the limited space at Wildwood, construction of a new building would occur close to the existing building where children would still be in residence, creating excess noise. In addition, almost all outdoor space would be occupied by construction. Use of the middle school fields is not an option because they are not handicapped accessible, due to the steep slope. This tight fit would mean that the grounds and parking around Wildwood could not be completed until four to six months after the new school building opens in Fall of 2026.
In contrast, the larger area at Fort River will involve less interference from the construction on the existing school, and some outdoor play space can be maintained during construction. Revision of the parking area would be completed over the summers. Construction at either site is slated to begin in the fall of 2024 and be completed in the fall of 2026 at the Fort River site, or the spring of 2027 at the Wildwood site. Construction at Wildwood might involve construction workers parking off site and having a shuttle to transport them to the site.
ESBC member Angelica Bernal mentioned that conditions at the busy intersections at Fort River could be made worse by locating the school there, but the design team thought that traffic flow would need to be improved at both sites, and that the problems at Fort River were not insurmountable. The estimate for creating a roundabout at the entrance to Wildwood and installing a traffic signal at East Pleasant Street is $600,000, while widening South East Street and upgrading the traffic signal at Main Street would cost $550,000. Morris noted that both schools had populations of 550 in the past, close to the 575 students projected for the new school.
Improvement Of Extensive Playing Fields Is Included In Higher Cost Estimate For Fort River
Donna DiNisco explained that the design team obtained two cost estimates from third-parties, AM Fogarty and PSR. She stressed that the estimates are preliminary, because the building has not been designed yet, but the costs for the two sites may be compared, since the costs for the building will be roughly the same at either site. The addition/renovation option is only slightly less expensive and presents more problems in phasing in construction. The result would be a longer construction period. Therefore, a new building of two or three stories seemed to be preferred by most of the committee.
The projected cost for a new three-story building at Fort River is $97,434,654, and at Wildwood it is $95,360,488. This is for the Design/Bid/Build method, which is about 8% less than the standard contract. A two-story building is slightly more expensive, but could hold more rooftop solar and decrease the need for canopies over the parking lot. The higher cost at Fort River is due to increased site work on the extensive playing fields that would be upgraded as part of the project. Mitigation of hazardous materials at the Wildwood site raises the estimated cost of that site.
ESBC member Phoebe Merriam wanted to know if other funds would be available to upgrade the playing fields at Fort River and if the more extensive outdoor space would be an asset as far as the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) is concerned, but Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) Margaret Wood said that the MSBA is most concerned about the building itself, not the site.
Committee Assured That Moisture Will Not Be An Issue At Fort River
Finance Director Sean Mangano and Town Manager Paul Bockelman wanted assurance that all measures to protect against moisture issues were being taken if the school is built at Fort River. They were reassured by DiNisco engineer Rick Rice, who explained that the most up-to-date technologies were being planned, with raising the slab foundation, putting a vapor barrier under the slab, adding drainage under the foundation, and improving the ventilation of the building. He said the design team has addressed the problem of groundwater seepage from all angles. However, in public comment, Chris Riddle suggested putting insulation under the whole slab, not just the perimeter, because he worried about moisture under the cement slab condensing and causing mildew and mold over the summer when the air conditioning is not running..
Regarding extreme flooding, Wood pointed out that although it is hard to predict future dangers from flooding due to climate change, the Fort River site is not in the current 100-year flood zone. She agreed that the building would be protected from groundwater seepage.
Building Maintenance Director Rupert Roy-Clark, who missed the last ESBC meeting, commented on potential uses of the building not chosen. He noted that the hazardous material abatement needed at Wildwood could impact its future use, though he did not specify any dangers to the children currently occupying that building. He also pointed out that the playing fields and restrooms at Fort River are maintained by the DPW, not the school department.
ESBC To Discuss Evaluation Matrix At June 6 Meeting
The committee decided to use a four-value rating system to evaluate various aspects of the two sites: highly advantageous, advantageous, not advantageous, or unacceptable. Many points are the same between the two sites, so the committee will concentrate on those that distinguish the two sites and also whether a two or three-story building is preferrable. There will be no presentation at Monday’s meeting. The final decision on the site and basic design will be made at the June 13 meeting.
ESBC Has Received Robust Public Comment
ESBC Chair Cathy Schoen noted that the committee has received many emails offering much good information, and she was pleased that many writers emphasized that whatever option is chosen, they will support it.
Chris Riddle noted that the curvilinear parking lot in the Wildwood design would be difficult to fit with canopy solar. He said he would choose the Fort River site if it were up to him. Rudy Perkins agreed that the town would be getting a lot more with the Fort River site, and the slightly greater cost is not enough to choose Wildwood, where construction will take longer.
Toni Cunningham emphasized that Wildwood is clearly the inferior choice for a site. She and Pam Rooney stressed that because construction will be closer to the existing school and the children in it and the project will take longer, the students at Wilwood would have to go three years without any outdoor play areas. Cunningham stressed that widespread public support is important for the debt exclusion override to pass.
Maria Kopicki agreed with the other commenters. She enumerated the advantages of the Fort River site, stating:
1. The disruption at Wildwood during construction would be much worse for much longer (two years with the current population and then another year with the 575 students and associated staff);
2. Playing fields cannot be manufactured at Wildwood. This is a deficit that simply cannot be overcome;
3. Improving multiple fields at Fort River for less than $2 million is a deal the town cannot hope to duplicate;
4. I have full confidence that the geotech people and designers will provide a state-of-the-art building;
5. There will be more families living in walking distance to Fort River soon due to the affordable developments planned at East Street and on Belchertown Road;
6. We can and should invest in our roads;
7. There will be resounding support for a school at Fort River during the debt exclusion override.
Upcoming ESBC meetings
June 6, 8:30 a.m.: discuss decision matrix
June 9, 6:30-9 p.m.: Community Forum https://www.amherst-school-project.com/get-involved
June 13: 8:30 a.m.: selection of site and preliminary design
June 24: 8:30 a.m.: Review of materials to be submitted to MSBC