Middle School building faces cost increases

By Betsy Levinson - betsy@theconcordbridge.org

In order for voters to weigh in on additional funds for the proposed new middle school, the Select Board opened a warrant for a Special Town Meeting scheduled for Jan. 19, 2023, with a snow date of Friday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. at Concord-Carlisle High School.

The warrant opened on Oct. 17 and closes on Oct. 28 at 12:30 p.m. The Finance Committee’s public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 17.

In a roll call vote earlier in the month, Matt Johnson, Mary Hartman and Linda Escobedo voted in favor while Henry Dane opposed. Terri Ackerman was absent.

The dollar amount for the warrant was not announced.

At a Town Meeting last February, the town authorized up to $102.8 million to build a new middle school on the grounds of the Sanborn building. But escalating construction costs and supply chain problems swelled the number well above the approved amount.

The latest number is an estimated $108M, according to the Building Committee.

Building the new school is the largest project ever undertaken in Concord.

Over the summer, the Building Committee “value engineered,” or reduced the $108M price tag by about $1.9M, still leaving the town several million short.

According to Building Committee member Heather Bout, the upcharge is “unprecedented,” but that it’s the same all over the country due to supply chain slowdowns and construction price increases. But the committee did not want to commit more funds without voter buy-in.

“We feel the town should have the final say,” said Bout. “We can’t make that decision.”

The Select Board agreed, giving mixed reactions to the predicament. On one hand, they feel the Building Committee should make the tough cuts necessary to bring the budget in line with what was approved. But another sentiment holds that the Committee is right to ask the town for more money, and still try to whittle down the budget.
Dane spoke vociferously about the need to adhere to the budget that passed last winter.

He proposed waiting until the budget estimate is about 90 percent certain before setting a date for a special Town Meeting. That estimate is due by Jan. 13, 2023.
Building Committee Co-chair Pat Nelson suggested setting the January Town Meeting number high enough that the committee won’t have to go back to the town in the future.
Dane argued that taxpayers may not approve the new amount, which could add more than $1,000 to the annual tax bill on a median value home. “The town doesn’t have unlimited resources,” he said.

“We have to have a cap on what is to be spent,” said Dane. “The Building Committee needs to settle on a number.”
Dane said the town has other capital needs, such as a public works facility that needs upgrading, and police officers who “work out of closets, and fire engines that can’t fit in the fire station.” He lamented the “long deferred” maintenance.

But Escobedo pointed to the value of education in town, “which has always been supported.”
Bout said the design is not “too fancy.”

“This is a building that addresses the goals of the educational plan, without being overly complex,” she said. It is also designed to be “net zero ready,” with solar panels and other energy efficient elements drawn into the design.

“I hope it will pass,” said Hartman.

If it doesn’t, the Building Committee will have to cut the design down to the approved $102.8M.

“It’s back to the drawing boards,” said Bout.

Several big items would be reduced, including the size of the gym and auditorium, as well as certain sustainability elements that are currently in the plan.
The building committee is scheduling several public forums and information sessions to keep the town apprised of current developments.

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