The Watertown School Committee learned that the estimates for the elementary school building projects underestimated the costs by $50 million or more.
The School Building Committee that oversees the Building for the Future school building projects heard a presentation from architects Ai3 earlier in April and part of the presentation focused on the cost. The estimate for rebuilding or renovating the three elementary schools would be $170 million to $180 million, School Committee Chairman John Portz said.
The original cost range was $80 million to $120 million, Portz said, and Town Manager Michael Driscoll has committed the town to cover up to $120 million from the Town budget. That would mean residents would not be asked to pass an override, which would increase property taxes to pay for the project.
Strategies for how to handle the increased costs have not yet been discussed, Portz said.
“The Building Committee will grapple with the numbers and discuss how do we move forward there,” Portz said. “And, how do we get the best building we can, and what the cost structures are.”
The next School Building Committee meeting will be on May 2 at 6 p.m. in room 30 of the Phillips Building, 30 Common St., Watertown. The meeting is open to the public.
Superintendent Dede Galdston said the Building Committee will look at the estimates provided by SMMA in 2016, the consultant hired to do a School Building Master Plan, and the more recent estimates from Ai3.
“At the May 2 meeting the goal is to dig more into SMMA’s figures, where they came from, and where we got to these (latest) costs,” Galdston said. “I don’t think there will be a resolution, but we will discuss what do these number represent and what happens if we scale back.”
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said that part of the costs appear to be from having to keep the schools open while the building is being renovated, or while a new one is constructed on the same site.
“Because we (in Watertown) are landlocked in terms of options, renovating buildings is so costly with phasing,” Mosca said. “Part of what jacks up the cost is phasing, because have no option of where to put a new building.”
Galdston agreed and added that new construction may not be out of reach. While in some cases new construction is more expensive than a renovation, the estimates for new construction provided by Ai3 were not that much different from renovating the schools.
“We need to focus on what’s best for Watertown,” Galdston said.
Ai3 presented a number of options, Galdston said, and for two of the schools it could include a large amount of new construction.
“There were things that I would never have thought of in a million years at Cunniff (Elementary School), where we could end up with a new building at the site,” Galdston said. “It was interesting to see the progression from renovation to addition to full new construction.”
Portz added that Hosmer Elementary School may also get a significant amount of new construction, but it plans call for Lowell Elementary School to have mostly renovation with some additions.