The School Building Committee had some sticker shock when members saw the original cost estimate for renovating and rebuilding Watertown’s three elementary schools, but architects delved deeper into the project found ways to cut more than $40 million off the cost.
On Wednesday night, Scott Dunlap, principal of Ai3 Architects, said designers found an estimated $42.7 million in savings by looking at a variety of areas. The total cost estimate, including contingency funds, design costs and other costs, would be $134.9 million. The cost estimates also include $2,800 per student for furniture, equipment and technology, with half that amount for technology, Dunlap said.
A big savings — $11.9 million — would be cut by staggering the construction and using the old part of Hosmer Elemntary School as swing space during construction at Lowell and Cunniff elementary schools. This would shorten the construction schedule and would mean other schools would not need to put up modular classrooms.
This part of the savings became a topic of discussion among School Building Committee members.
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said that she worries that the design of the Hosmer would suffer because the design is being driven, in part, by the desire to keep the old part so it be swing space to house students from other schools during construction. She wants to make sure the Hosmer is something that people are proud of 50 years from now, and not sacrifice that for a couple years of construction.
Sean O’Hern, a community member on the Committee, worries that the construction schedule might be too tight. Some of the plans depend on moving students from one school into Hosmer over April vacation, and construction could easily run a week or more late, he said.
Lowell Principal Stacy Phelan said she was worried about having kids in the school during renovations, so moving to the swing space sounds like a good idea.
“Children can really get adversely affected to just the littlest changes during the year,” Phelan said. “For them to have the opportunity to go into this space, temporarily — I would almost advocate for a whole year because it would make it just a little less crazy for us. The children would know we are giving up this year in our building but we are returning.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris said that he and Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon looked at the conceptual drawings for the new Hosmer. They had problems with the placement of the building and the “L” shape shown on drawings.
“If we put a new building on the site, it is not really where we would put a building” Sideris said. “We would put the building where Boylston meets Chauncey.”
Dunlap said that area looks inviting, however, there is a 50-foot setback from the street. This limitation would shrink the footprint of the building so much that the building would need to be four stories high to fit all the classrooms and other facilities. He added that designers are not wedded to the “L” shape, and have started working on different shaped buildings.
Another $10.4 million would be cut by reducing the amount of the expansion and making a more efficient building program. The amount of new construction has been reduced by 18,000 sq. ft. to 50,000 sq. ft., Dunlap said.
Superintendent Dede Galdston said that original estimates came up with 28 new classrooms, which was based on having 19 students per class. However, using the district’s class-size guidelines, where upper elementary grades can have more than 19 students per class, only 26 new classrooms were needed.
By looking at what systems (electrical, plumbing and mechanical) can be kept, about $11.5 million can be saved by not “getting down to the studs” and doing full renovations of the entire old sections of the schools, Dunlap said.
The last major area would be not building a new early childhood center (for preschool and pre-kindergarten) and move into the building at Hosmer with the auditorium and other facilities. This could save an estimated $8.9 million.
Dunlap said by moving preschool classrooms to Watertown High School and including them in an early childhood program at WHS, the state would pay for part of the cost of constructing them. He has worked on projects that did this in Natick and East Bridgwater, and Galdston said when she was in Billerica, preschool classes were included the new high school and the district received reimbursement.
Community member Paul Anastasi warned that the state only reimburses for classrooms used by the high school, too, so if there are other preschool classrooms the district would have to pay the entire amount for those ones.
The estimated costs for the three elementary schools would be:
Cunniff: $37.56 million. This includes major additions, renovations of much of the existing building, and demolition of a one-story wing.
Hosmer: $57.64 million. Hosmer would get a new main school building and the majority of the current building would be demolished, but only after serving as swing space house students from Lowell and Cunniff while those campuses are being renovated.
Lowell: $31.25 million. The plan calls for some additions and some major renovations of the existing building.
Sideris said that for the School Building Committee to get a better feel for what members are talking about, he would like to have some meetings at the school sites. This may also bring more parents and neighbors because they know they will be discussing their school, he added.
The next meeting will be on June 21, 2018 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at Hosmer School, 1 Concord Road, Watertown. The meeting will start with a tour of the school, and then the committee will meet in a room to be announced before the meeting.