Committee to Re-Interview Project Manager Firms, Discuss Options for Lowell School

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An image of the latest plans for what Lowell Elementary School will look like after it is renovated.

The School Building Committee could not choose one of the finalists for owner’s project manager for Watertown’s elementary school construction projects, so they will bring them back in for second round of interviews. At the same time, they discussed how to approach the renovation of Lowell School, and progress on the high school project.

On May 7, the three finalists for the firms that will oversee the construction of the schools on behalf of the Town made presentations to the School Building Committee. The finalists — Hill, Leftfield and Skanska — were chosen from seven firms that submitted proposals.

The committee did not renew the contract of the first OPM firm, Daedalus Projects, in February because members were not satisfied with the level of service the firm was providing.

At the May 9 meeting, School Building Committee Chairman, and Town Council President Mark Sideris said there was no consensus among board members.

“It seemed that no body jumped out at us as, this is the one that is the perfect fit for Watertown,” Sideris said. “That is a bit of a concern for me. This is a big project, $170 million, and some people might know we didn’t have good luck with the first firm we hired.”

Some on the board like one firm best, others liked the second, and still others preferred the third one, said Town Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli.

“It is concerning not one stood out, but also there wasn’t one that flunked and dropped off the list,” Piccirilli said.

Starting the search over did not seem like a good option, Piccirilli said, because it would take another two to three months. The board discussed bringing in some of the other firms that applied, but were not brought forward as finalists. Instead, they decided to ask more questions to the three finalists.

Lori Kabel, Watertown’s director of Public Buildings, said she thought the committee should have a formal approach to the second interviews.

“If we bring back we need to weight them on a criteria so we know what we are looking for,” Kabel said.

Project architect Scott Dunlap of Ai3 Architects said he would come up a list of questions based on the committee’s concerns, and the committee members could look them over before the meeting so questions can be added or removed. The same questions will be asked to each firm.

School Committee Chairman John Portz said he also wants to hear from the person who will be the main contact for Watertown officials, not the head of the firm, who he said often is not on the work site.

The meeting will take place on Wednesday, May 15 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chamber in Town Hall.

Construction Schedule

The Committee also heard a possible schedule for construction at the three elementary schools, including options for how the work wold be done at Lowell Elementary School.

The first approvals from the Planning Board for items such as stormwater drainage plans would need to take place in June, July or August, Dunlap said. The goal would be to get a set of designs by the end of the summer, so that detailed cost estimates could be made, Dunlap said. More detailed designs would be completed by early January.

“Assuming everything moves along as planned, sometime after the first of the year, all the projects will be ready to go out for bid,” Dunlap said.

Under the proposed schedule, the Hosmer Elementary School would be first to be constructed, and would start in 2020 and end in 2022, Dunlap said. Work at Cunniff Elementary School would start in 2022 and end in 2023.

There are two options for Lowell, however. If students move over to the Hosmer site for a year, it would start in 2022 and end in spring 2024. Ai3 also looked at a schedule where work at the school would be done in phases, but students would remain in the school the whole time. in that scenario, work would last from 2020 to 2023.

“We would separate the construction areas from the occupied areas with barriers,” Dunlap said. “We’ve done projects like that.”

The idea seemed worth considering to Sideris.

“I do think there is a value in getting all this construction done a year early,” Sideris said. “The quicker we can get this done, the quicker theses kids can get normal lives in their classroom.”

School Committee member Lindsay Mosca, who’s son would be in the school during the construction, was not so sure.

“Under phased occupied renovation the students in that school would be in a school under construction for three years. That is a significant impact on three generations of our kids moving through our schools, including my son.” Mosca said. “From a parent perspective, I think a lot of people would prefer one year in a different space than three years in construction.”

Before any decision is made about the construction at Lowell, Sideris said, more input would be sought from parents. It would likely be at a Community Meeting at the school.

High School Project

The School Building Committee also oversees the Watertown High School project, which is on a different track because it is receiving reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

On May 6, the MSBA’s Review Panel approved Watertown’s pick for owner’s project manager for the WHS project. The firm is Compass Project Management, said Superintendent Dede Galdston, and now a final contract can be signed.

Also, a group from Watertown attended a workshop run by the National Design Alliance. Three communities building or renovating high schools — Watertown, Stoneham and Revere — were invited to work with architects from around the nation to think about what they would like to see included in their new high school, Galdston said.

The three day event was attended by a group from Watertown which included teachers, a student, a parent, and district officials, Galdston said.

“It was dynamic to hear from a student, a parent and teachers, for what they want in a high school,” Galdston said.

She suggested that the group make a presentation to the School Building Committee.

Next Meetings

On May 14, the Town Council will be asked for the first set of funding for the elementary school project: $12 million for the cost of designer services, Sideris said.

After the second round of interviews on May 15, the next School Building Committee meeting will be Wednesday, June 5 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall. A proposal for the sustainability and “green” goals for the elementary school projects could be discussed at that meeting.

3 thoughts on “Committee to Re-Interview Project Manager Firms, Discuss Options for Lowell School

  1. I may have missed it, but why are the two “new” schools (Hosmer and Cuniff) not using available state MSBA funds which would save the taxpayers millions? Councilor Sideris said MSBA funds wouldn’t work when were renovating all 3 elementary schools, but now we’re building two new ones. How many millions could we save by using MSBA funds? 40-50m? After the funding for the elementary schools, the town’s going ask taxpayers for more money via a debt exclusion to pay for the high school. Shouldn’t we be trying to be more fiscally responsible on the elementary schools to save the taxpayers money?

    • Good question, Scott. The reason why the Watertown Public Schools did not go for MSBA funds on the elementary schools is that typically State only funds one project per town at a time, so the projects would take many more years to complete. Also, they have more restrictions and it is not clear if they would allow new buildings to be built.
      Also, if it was not clear, the elementary schools will be paid for without an override or debt exclusion, but yes, the high school will need one to cover the Town’s portion of the cost (a little over half).

  2. I believe this question needs more explanation from the town authorities.

    I raised the question and received a similar answer from a town official. I would like to see a more detailed explanation with some cost consequences analysis. I fear that the cost of the elementary school rebuild might hamper the development of the high school. I would almost like to see the high school be first so we understand what moneys the town has left. If the town is paying for all of the elementary schools we can always do this while we are doing the high school. School construction costs have a bad history of creeping up. This is evident in the latest decision to build new and not renovate.

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