Council Approves Funds for Design of Elementary School Projects

Print More

Ai3 via Watertown Cable

An illustration of what the new Hosmer School will likely look like when completed, The view is from the east looking at the new main entrance.

An illustration of what the new Hosmer School will likely look like when completed, The view is from the east looking at the new main entrance.

The Town Council approved the first major funding piece for the $170 million reconstruction of Watertown’s three elementary schools on Tuesday night. The project will be paid for within the Town’s budget, without requiring a debt exclusion to pay for the work, Town Manager Michael Driscoll said.

The Council approved a loan order for $12.441 million for design services.

Town Council President Mark Sideris noted that the project, and the price tag has changes significantly. At first, the estimate was $80-$120 million for the renovation of Hosmer, Lowell and Cunniff elementary schools.

“We were looking at it and we didn’t get much for that,” Sideris said. “We asked, why do we get new windows here and not other places. Then we talked about, what if we do one new school, and then it became looking at two new schools.”

He noted that they decided not to do a new school at Lowell because it has a historic building, but the school will be significantly renovated inside, and get a new addition.

After looking at the price of renovating the buildings, compared to building new ones, the decision was made to do the new construction.

“The delta (price difference) became small — still big, but much smaller — and we decided this is the direction we should be moving,” Sideris said.

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

The School Building Committee met dozens of times, including holding community meetings at each of the schools, before settling on the conceptual design, said Town Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli, who sits on the School Building Committee. He added that he believes the Town will get good bang for its buck.

“Many in the community were very concerned about the price, and what value to get from the project,” Piccirilli said. “We committed to the process and with the $170 million get get a good level of value.”

Scott Dunlap, principal of Ai3 Architects, the group designing the schools, said that Watertown is ahead of other towns.

“It is difficult to describe the move the town is proposing to make,” Dunlap said. “It is really a model for other towns.”

In his 30 years working on school projects around Massachusetts and beyond, Dunlap said he has not seen such a level of working with the neighbors, looking to green space, and setting the sustainability goal of net zero buildings.

Driscoll said that while he still likes the sound of an $80 million to $120 million project, he applauded the effort of the School Building Committee to get to the point where the project is ready to be designed.

He noted that the reason why the Town can pay for the project without a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion is that Watertown will finish paying off its unfunded retirement benefits deficit on July 1, 2019, so money will be freed up for other purposes.

“A lot of people were not thrilled from (fiscal year) 2009 to 2019 that we funded 152 percent of the retirement appropriation,” Driscoll said. “Beginning (fiscal year) 2020, all the project cost will be done within the confines of Proposition 2 1/2.”

Town Councilor Anthony Donato noted that it will be nice to be able to point to the two new schools and one heavily renovated school as products of paying off the retirement benefit debt.

School Committee Chair John Portz said the buildings will soon be fit for the education program Watertown wants for its children.

“The buildings, for the first time in a long time, will support teaching and learning that meets the school system’s goals,” Portz said. “They will be true assets to Watertown.”

An illustration showing one corner of the new Cunniff Elementary School. This corner, closest to Warren Street, is where the media center will be located.

Superintendent Dede Galdston said that building new schools is only part of the job of the Watertown Public Schools.

“A school buildings are only as good as the teaching and learning within it,” Galdston said. “I will make the commitment to make sure what happens in the building is as equally excellent, innovative and joyful as the buildings themselves.”

The Council voted unanimously to approve the loan order. The $12.441 million is made up of several items:

  • $3.54 million for design development
  • $5.19 million for construction documents
  • $403,718 for bidding
  • 2.35 million for construction administration
  • $211,805 for completion
  • $739,060 for extra services

See more information by clicking here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *