Town Council Approves Funding for Study & Schematic Design for New High School

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A significant hurdle was cleared on the path to building a new, or renovating the current, Watertown High School when the Town Council approved $1.6 million in funding for the project’s feasibility study and schematic design. 

Last week, the Town Council unanimously approved the funding for what is the end of the first of eight modules required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), said Superintendent Dede Galdston.

The high school project was accepted into the MSBA’s process in December 2017. Since that time school officials have been taking the necessary steps, including creating a school building committee (the same one as for the 3 elementary school projects), documenting maintenance practices, and setting an enrollment. Galdston said, when completed, the high school will be able to accommodate 720 students. Currently the high school has about 660 students.

The final step in the first module was to get approval of the funding. The Council approved funding the $1.6 million, which would be bonded for 10 years with a payment of $160,000 annually beginning in Fiscal Year 2020, said Town Manager Michael Driscoll.

If the project gets final approval for funding, from both state officials and from Watertown voters f0r the town’s share, Driscoll said, the $1.6 million will be rolled into that. This means it would also be partially reimbursed by the state.

Watertown High Renovation Project Accepted Into State School Building Program

At Monday’s School Committee meeting, Galdston said the reimbursement rate has not been set yet.

“The minimum reimbursement is 31 percent but, from what we know, for Watertown it will be around 47 percent,” Galdston said. “And we may get more bonus points.”

With the approval, the Watertown Public Schools will submit the package for the MSBA board to consider at its Dec. 12, 2018 meeting, Galdston said.

The process working with the MSBA is different from the one being used to rebuild the three elementary schools, Galdston said, because that project is being funded totally by the town.

“One thing different than the elementary school project is it is very structured,” Galdston said. “We have to follow the MSBA guidelines.”

After receiving approval from the MSBA, Module 2 includes forming the project team, including hiring an owner’s project manager and a designer for the project. The designer would be selected by a panel that includes 13 members from the MSBA and three representatives from Watertown.

Module 3 includes the feasibility study and considering the funding of the project. Module 4 is the schematic design. This is when one of the big questions will be answered, Galdston said.

“The question I often get, ‘Where will the high school be?’ certainly is not an answer I have,” Galdston said. “We will look at all the possible sites and current site. That is what the feasibility study will do.”

After the schematic design is complete, some other major questions will be answered, she said.

“We will know where the high school will be, exactly what it will look like and at that point in time, we will know how much it will cost,” Galdston said.

With the price tag, school officials can move on to the next major milestone. Module 5 is when the voters of Watertown will be asked to approve a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion for the town’s portion of the project. Galdston said she hopes to have the vote in the fall of 2020.

If funding is approved, then the project moves on to Module 6, which is when detailed designs are created. Module 7 is the construction period, and Module 8 is the completion of the project and moving into the new high school.

Galdston laid out what she called an “best case scenario” timeline, which would be as follows:

• form a project team in late winter 2019

• complete the feasibility study in spring 2020

• complete schematic design in summer 2020

• hold the debt exclusion vote in the fall 2020

• complete detailed design and being construction in summer 2021

• complete construction in spring 2023, and

• open the new school in September 2023

If things do not go as planned, the opening may not happen until 2024, she said.

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