Watertown has plans to build a new high school which will create enough energy to cover the amount needed to operate the building, be equipped with state of the art equipment and technology, and will educate students for decades to come. Even facing climbing construction costs, City Manager George Proakis vowed that the new school will be built.
Watertown will get a significant portion of the new high school reimbursed — $44.2 million — by the State through the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). The cost of the project approved by the state was $138.6 million, but since the approval in March the cost of construction has escalated.
In July, the School Building Committee approved “value engineering” steps to use less costly materials and reduce the scope of the project to keep it on budget. Also, the committee approved transferring more than $4 million to help with the cost overages.
Proakis told the City Council on Oct. 11 that he will make sure that the high school will be constructed, and that any further cuts would not impact the education received by students.
“This school is a substantial benefit for the community of Watertown and for the high school students in Watertown,” Proakis said. “As a parent of a high school student I really appreciate the value of having the right physical plant, the right opportunities for learning, the right program of education so the school can be successful for us for a long time.”
The design of the new high school calls for it to be net zero energy, and to meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum standards. WHS would be only the second high school in the country to accomplish that.
Recently, the School Building Committee unveiled a virtual tour of the new Watertown High School. The 9 minute video shows what the new school will look like inside and out. See the School Building Committee meeting on Watertown Cable by clicking here. Watch the video here:
While acknowledging that it is a “rough and tumble world out there when it comes to bids for construction now,” Proakis committed to getting the project done without sacrificing the most important parts.
“I want to work with this council to do whatever we need to do to make sure that we put together a strategy to build this building and if we have to talk about these evil words — value engineering — that we are not sacrificing the program for students or the Net Zero status of this building.”
Proakis will take $2 million from the Fiscal Year 2023 Free Cash account (the undesignated, unspent funds) and commit it to the High School Stabilization Fund, which takes the amount up to $3.98 million.
He also plans to devote a portion of the money intended to pay down the City’s retirement benefit deficit to make sure that high school project, as well as the recently started Lowell Elementary School renovation and expansion, are completed.
The City Council previously planned to pay off the Other Post Retirement Benefits (OPEB) fund deficit by Fiscal Year 2031 by spending $28.8 million a year. Proakis said he plans to expand the use of the $28.8 million so it could be spent on OPEB as well as to cover school construction increases.
“What that does is if one of those projects jumped up in price we could lower the OPEB number a little bit and extend out OPEB beyond (FY) 2031, and we’d be OK because while we have pension funded well ahead of other communities,” Proakis said. “We would have OPEB funded by 2031, which we are not required to do but it looks great for our bond rating. If we shifted and extended OPEB to to ’32 or ’33, and it allows us to get the high school we wanted, it allows us to say as long as we are within the $28.8 million number we are in a safe place.”
He added: “We don’t want to look back five years from now and say, ‘Oh my goodness we should not have cut that.”
See slides from Ai3 Architects showing what the new Watertown High School will look like by clicking here.