Above: Philip Conte from architecture firm StudioJAED addresses the Jan. 25 School Building Committee meeting at Swift Community Center.
School Building Committee approves plan for elementary school
All 12 School Building Committee members voted unanimously Thursday morning to recommend pursuing an addition and renovation at Hanaford as part of the $150 million school construction project approved by voters last November. Now the School Committee and the Town Council must approve the plan before it can be submitted as part of the “stage 2” application to the state Dept. of Education (RIDE) by Feb. 15 that will determine what projects or aspects of projects are eligible for state reimbursement.
An addition and renovation provides more flexibility, said Derek Osterman, project manager for the district’s construction consultant Colliers. He said if they opt for new, they could be stuck with an incomplete building if aspects of the project change later.
According to Philip Conte, head of architecture firm StudioJAED, building a brand new Hanaford would cost $44.5 million according to a formula provided by RIDE and $48 million based on a third-party estimate. The third-party estimator places a $42 million price tag on an addition and renovation at Hanaford (RIDE did not provide a cost estimate for a renovation). Conte stated that the third-party estimates do not include soft costs and escalating construction costs.
Find the full breakdown of both project estimates here: EG Hanaford Cost Estimates – 01/23/2024.
Osterman said that roughly 20 percent additional cost could be added to make the numbers more accurate. However, “the numbers are going to continue to change all the way through the project,” he said.
When pressed by Asst. Supt. Michael Podraza, Director of Student Services Neil Marcaccio, and School Committeeman Tim Munoz about ensuring that an addition and renovation at Hanaford would be comparable in terms of equity to a newly built Frenchtown, Conte said, “All I can give you is my word.”
The exact layout of a renovated Hanaford will not be decided until after the stage 2 submission but facilities’ Wilmarth said, “Almost all of Hanaford gets knocked down” under the current design thinking. “We’re saving the gymnasium and the library and some little bits and pieces of core interior pieces and the slab,” he said. “The building is essentially being knocked down, and we’re adding and [renovating] on top of that.”
He told officials, “There’s a lot of collaboration” during the stage 3 (i.e. design) process. He said the design team would meet with teachers and staff at “each school and compare what their needs are.”
One of the major differences between the two schools would be the “tracks” – the number of classes per grade. As previously reported, Conte has told the committee that even a new building at Hanaford would only support a maximum of four tracks. In contrast, a new Frencthown would be able to accommodate five.
“I know the add/reno gives us flexibility to possibly make [Hanaford] bigger, but it also gives us the ability to make it smaller,” said School Committee Chair Alyson Powell, expressing concern that the overarching goal of solving overcrowding could be lost.
“It will likely become a conversation about districting,” Osterman said, noting that according to enrollment analysis, both schools were determined to be four-and-half track schools, which is “not doable.” He went on to say RIDE would likely not reimburse EG if the town built in excess capacity for “students that don’t exist.”
Prior to the vote, Town Council President Mark Schwager said that the project would have a “dramatic impact on the education in our community for decades to come.” He added, “I know the School Committee is committed to this, the Town Council is committed to this, and at least 69 percent of the community is committed to this.”
The School Committee and the Town Council will hold a joint meeting on Monday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m. at the Swift Community Center.
Andrew Belfry is a freelance reporter covering EG schools and police. He lives in town with his wife and two kids. Send him comments and tips at [email protected].