The School District’s consultants wrapped up the third and final community forum looking at the future of Watertown Public Schools facilities Wednesday night, but some at the meeting said they think the master plan has been rushed and needs more work.
Michael van Hamel, an architect with SMMA, presented the costs for three options for upgrading Watertown’s schools: 1) a basic renovation, 2) a renovation with reconfigured layouts designed for 21st century teaching and learning, or 3) a brand new school.
In new construction, state official have more say over what can be included, and for instance van Hamel said usually they do not allow auditoriums in elementary school. This is a feature at each of the Watertown elementary schools.
At the Hosmer School, the district is considering moving all the Pre-K classes in the district into a wing of the school, or possibly adding a universal Pre-K program, which would need space for an estimated 400 students in the Universal Early Learning Center. Therefore there are four options at the East Watertown school.
The prices for each school are as follows:
Basic Renovation (70,550 sq. ft.) $26.5 million
Renovation and New Layout (70,910 sq. ft.) $29.8 million
New Construction (69,100 sq. ft.) $55.4 million
Basic Renovation (86,980 sq. ft.) $28.3 million
Renovation and New Layout (88,470 sq. ft.) $33 million
New Construction (75,100 sq. ft.) $60.7 million
Basic Renovation (124,878 sq. ft.) $29.9 million
Renovation and New Layout with District-wide Pre-K (143,700 sq. ft.) $40.7 million
Renovation and New Layout with Universal Early Learning Center (175,870 sq. ft) $54.4 million
New Construction (146,300 sq. ft.) $71 million
Watertown Middle School
Basic Renovation (146,290 sq. ft.) $35.3 million
Renovation and New Layout (153,660 sq. ft.) $46.3 million
New Construction (105,520 sq. ft.) $86.7 million
Watertown High School
Basic Renovation (193,280 sq. ft.) $44.9 million
Renovation and New Layout (193,280 sq. ft.) $53.4 million
New Construction (161,140 sq. ft.) $131.5 million
Other options include a stand alone, 60,000 sq. ft. Universal Early Learning Center for $46.7 million.
During the construction, the district will need swing space for students while their school is being worked on. This would cost between $7 and $10 million, van Hamel said, and could be at the old Phillips Building, the former Police Station, a former library branch or temporary modular classrooms.
Several residents, including some for whom this was the first forum they attended, had questions about how the schools will be prioritized for replacement, how it will be paid for and more.
The town hopes to get funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which would reimburse Watertown for about $48 million of an approved project. The approval project, however, can take many years. It was noted that Belmont finally received approval to work on Belmont High School after about a decade of trying.
Prioritization will have to be decided later, van Hamel said.
Resident Elodia Thomas said she believes the whole process has been rushed and handled poorly. Thomas said she has requested information packets prior to each of the forums but has not received anything.
“I am deeply disappointed,” Thomas said. “I don’t understand how you are going to ask for this to go forward without the information to make the decision. This is Mickey Mouse – having a meeting right before Labor Day when everyone is away.”
Resident John Labadini said he believes the School Committee, school administration and the Master Plan Steering Committee, which met over the summer, would be better served by having better communication.
He added that he would like to see some new facilities built.
“Renovations would be like putting shoe polish on sneakers,” Labadini said.
Parent and Steering Committee member Lyndsey Mosca said that interior systems, such as HVAC, electrical wires and plumbing, would be replaced, along with the roof, ceiling and walls.
People noted that the presentations had several drawings of how schools would be renovated, but none for if the option to build a new school is taken.
Joel Seely of SMMA said the current part of the planning process was meant to come up with cost estimates, not make detailed plans. School Committee Chairman John Portz said with a new school, the designs would not likely be created so early in the process.
The master plan will be written up by the end of August, and Portz said he expects it to be presented to the School Committee and the Town Council by late September or early October. Then work on the feasibility study would begin, Seely said, where more detailed costs will be worked out.
Town Councilor Ken Woodland said he is not sure the plan is ready to bring to the Council.
“I think this is a short timeframe to get the details needed to come before the Council. I am not sure you have the granularity here,” Woodland said. “When we see a project from a department we get a ridiculous amount of information.”
Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said that what the Council needs to make a decision is the cost estimates for each option. That way the projects can be added to Watertown’s five year Capital Improvement Program.