Watertown High School Project Moving Forward, Public Meetings Planned


The multiyear process that will result in a new or renovated Watertown High School got rolling last week when the School Building Committee heard about what it will take to make the project a reality.

On July 11, the Owner’s Project Manager for the Watertown High School project, Compass Project Management, met with the School Building Committee to talk about some of the projects they have worked one, and the schedule for the project.

Compass is working on a five-phase, 18-month construction project at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Natick, said Tim Bonfatti, president of Compass.

“Much like the current Watertown High School it is on a very constricted site, with limited options around it,” Bonfatti said. “And the solution that is going to be built there is going to be built in phases because we can’t complete it within the constrained footprint of that site.”

Christy Murphy, the senior project manager, said that the WHS project may also be similar to the Boston University Dental School project, in which two additions are being made to the current building and the existing interior will be renovated.

“It is an urban site — it is on the Boston Medical Center Campus on Albany Street,” Murphy said. “It abuts a neighborhood of brown stones and has hospitals on on either side.”

Compass is also working on rebuilding Middlborough High School which is almost exactly the same size as WHS with 720 students, as well as Stoughton High School.

As part of the process in Watertown, all potential sites (including the current one) will be examined to find the best place for the WHS project.

Watertown school officials will come up with and education plan, which Bonfatti said will be key to justify to the MSBA what programs and equipment will be necessary, and therefore reimbursed.

The educational plan includes the technology that will be purchased as part of the project, and any new programs. Compass officials noted that there is a vocational component that Watertown would like to include in the new school.

Resident Elodia Thomas said she has attended the School Building Committee meetings for more than two years, and this was the first time that she has heard talk of a vocational program. She worried that the district is seeking to create a program so that Watertown students could not apply to Minuteman High School as an option for a vocational education.

School Committee Chairman John Portz said there is no effort to stop students from applying to go to Minuteman, or to create a big vocational program in Watertown.

“(The School Committee) had a couple meetings, where the superintendent made a presentation about what kinds of vocational options we want to consider looking at building into the High School,” Portz said. “We are not creating a new Minuteman.”

Watertown Director of Public Buildings Lori Kabel said during a recent tour of WHS, she mentioned to the Compass representatives that the wood shop and consumer science (formerly home economics) are popular programs.

MSBA Process

Some items can be reimbursed, others are never covered, and there is a cap on the reimbursement of cost for a third group of costs, Bonfatti explained. If an item exceeds what is allowed by the MSBA, or is not on the list of items eligible for reimbursement, Watertown can decide to build it but the town will have to cover that cost.

The next step in the project is hiring an architectural firm to design the high school. The designer will be chosen by the MSBA Design Panel which includes 12 permanent members, many from the MSBA, and which will also include three representatives from Watertown. The three members from Town include a member of the School Committee, Superintendent Dede Galdston or her appointee, and Town Manager Michael Driscoll or his appointee.

The firms are prequalified by the MSBA, said. Bonfatti. There is already interest in the WHS project.

“Over 30 firms requested information (about the project),” Murphy said said.

Community Input

During the design phase of the project, multiple community meetings will be held to get public input on the plans, Murphy said. The goal is to have a designer on board by September. The first community forum will likely be in November. The second in January or February 2020, with the goal of submitting a preliminary design to the MSBA in February.

The choices will be narrowed to the preferred option by June 2020, so another community forum will likely be held in May 2020. The schematic design process will go through December 2020.

This is the point where the cost of the is figured out and the Watertown Schools will go to the community to ask for approval for funding of the project. Bonfatti said the Town would only have to borrow the funds for its portion of the cost, because the MSBA reimburses districts in “real time.”

A community meeting will be held around February 2021 so the final design process can move forward. Bid documents will be prepared for December 2021 and construction would be planned to start in October 2022.

Bonfatti said Compass usually aims to have projects done in time for teachers and students to move in by the start of school in the fall. To do so, Bonfatti said, Watertown will likely have to have some early construction packages that will start in Fall 2021.

Because the project is part of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the process is very structured and the project must get approvals along the way from the MSBA boards, which only meet at certain times during the year.

One key to keep the project on schedule, Bonfatti said, is to make sure decisions are made on time to submit it to the MSBA.

“The MSBA Board meetings are held once every two months,” Bonfatti said. “We don’t want to miss those dates because we end up having to wait another two months.”

The School Building Committee oversees not just the WHS project, but also the rebuilding or renovation of the three elementary schools. Town Council President Mark Siders, who chairs the School Building Committee, said he will start planning separate meetings for the WHS project and the elementary schools project.

The next meeting will be held on July 24 at the Lecture Hall in Watertown High School, 50 Columbia St., Watertown.

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