As School Vote Nears, Building Committee Reconvenes


Architect's rendering of a hallway at the proposed new elementary school at Fort River. Photo: DiNisco Design

With a critical public vote on the school project looming, and after a two-month break, the Elementary School Building Committee met on April 14, primarily to approve invoices for the Owner’s Project Manager (Anser Advisory) and the project designer (DiNisco Design).

Chair Cathy Schoen offered a rundown of outreach efforts she has undertaken since February, which included 14 presentations about the school project to small groups around town. Schoen said she has two remaining public events planned in the run-up to the debt exclusion override vote on May 2 — one at Applewood Retirement Community on April 15 and the other at the UMass Old Chapel on April 20. 

Town Manager Paul Bockelman cautioned that the building committee’s role was not one of advocacy on the ballot question. “I want to make sure we don’t get into strategizing,” Bockelman said. “This is a building committee so we shouldn’t be talking about how to inform more people.”

Also discussed were the next steps in design, should the vote pass on May 2. Tim Cooper of DiNisco displayed a list of possible workgroups or subcommittees to be created, the primary goal of each being to provide DiNisco with greater input and to make decisions on elements of the design. In addition to the already-existing Net Zero subcommittee, which last met in October 2022, Cooper’s list included site design, playground equipment, interior design, building design, and public art. 

Bockelman thought it would be onerous to have six or seven subcommittees that would have to meet the requirements of the open meeting law such as advance posting of meetings. Town Councilor and building committee member Ellisha Walker raised the possibility of having fewer subcommittees, combining potentially complementary topics such as site and playground design but design team leader Donna DiNisco cautioned that the level of detail they would be seeking renders the subject areas quite separate and labor intensive. “The playground [design] will be an intense time-consuming evaluation,” DiNisco said, adding that a playground specialist will be joining their team. 

Since the committee last met in mid-February, Town officials and building project leaders have spoken with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) multiple times. According to Margaret Wood of Anser, the MSBA reviewed and signed off on the Schematic Design submission and on the total project budget. Recent updates showed an approximately $2 million decrease in the expected reimbursement from the state for the project; the reasons for this were not elaborated on during this meeting.  

Schoen suggested the committee next meet on May 19 since she has travel plans following the townwide vote. Bockelman asked if waiting until then would put the project behind schedule. “It would be great to meet earlier,” Cooper responded.

DiNisco suggested they meet next on April 28 instead and said the design team would bring to that meeting a summary of what will be sought from each workgroup or subcommittee and a suggested meeting frequency. Members of the public who are not on the Building Committee may be invited to join some of the workgroups. “We would ask you all to think about who the best voices would be to hear from on all of these conversations,” Cooper said.

Five invoices from Anser and DiNisco were approved unanimously. These included the final invoice from DiNisco for the $300,000 Schematic Design contract, and the March invoice from Anser which showed a total of $239,677 has been billed to date for its services.

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