Pat Nelson and Dawn Guarriello, co-chairs of the Middle School Building Committee, fielded questions from the public at two Zoom info sessions recently.
Among the questions was the inclusion of the larger gym and auditorium even as reductions were made over the spring and summer in the wake of steep increases in construction costs.
Nelson said the inclusion of the larger spaces was in response to the community’s input. But former town Moderator Ned Perry asked if the emails were public or accessible showing the need expressed by the town.
While not pointing him to the emails, Nelson said the Building Committee conducted a survey over the summer that showed a preference for keeping the larger spaces. She said the survey results are available as part of the building project materials.
“There was interest from the community in a 420-seat auditorium and large gym,” Nelson said.
But Anita Tekle pushed back on the popularity of the so-called community spaces.
“How did the community spaces end up in the plan?” said Tekle. “People are not willing to pay for those.”
Nelson said the committee “engaged the community in the design process,” and got “overwhelming support” from people who wanted to see the auditorium and gym.
But “it’s putting taxpayers in a hard place,” said Tekle. “It is unfortunate.”
Guarriello said the committee hopes to send the project out to bid in the coming months, if the article passes at Town Meeting and at the Feb. 16 ballot vote. It is hoped, she said, that the town could break ground in May for a 2025 occupancy.
If Article 5 does not pass, the Building Committee said an estimated $11M would have to be stripped from the plan which would involve an entirely new design. The town approved $102.8 million a year ago, but inflation and construction costs have necessitated the need for $7.2M more.
Guarriello said approximately $2 million has been cut from the original design through a process of value engineering.
The committee is awaiting the 90 percent construction estimate due this week. There is a concern that it may come in above the $110M limit approved by the Select Board.
In 2017, Town Meeting voted for a feasibility study that indicated the need for a new middle school, and in the summer of 2019 the Building Committee was charged with designing one school for sixth through eighth graders that met the educational needs and the district’s ed plan for the 700 students that now fill two buildings.
Nelson said the design reflected a team teaching model with teachers developing relationships with small groups of students. As such, the school has been designed with one grade per floor each with three teams per grade; strong connections to nature and an emphasis on sustainability. The design is all electric with a water reduction scheme.
But it’s crunch time now as the committee needs to send the project out to bid. Nelson said “in order to have bids, we need to have the budget included in the proposals.”