Determining the cost of the new high school is a multifactorial, iterative process:
- The MSBA process promotes inclusion of all potential facility needs at the beginning of the design and the needs are defined in the Educational Program. The MSBA does not typically grant addition of spaces or programs after the Feasibility Phase.
- During the Feasibility phase, the Building Committee included all current programming at AHS as well as future needs and goals into the preferred design concept. Non-AHS related programs and services that currently reside in the facility are also included.
- During the Schematic Design phase (~ September 2018 – April 2019), the design and budget for all spaces and programs will be further refined.
- By the conclusion of the Schematic Design phase, the Building Committee will evaluate the cost vs. benefits for each feature to pare costs to fit the project’s budget and weigh those decisions against the educational needs.
Current Cost Estimates
At this point, preliminary estimates from the Feasibility Phase put the total project budget of the Preferred Design at $308 million, for a building of 415,200 square feet and design enrollment of 1755. AHS is rated one of the best high schools in the state. In order to maintain our high educational quality, the proposed school contains spaces beyond those outlined by the basic MSBA high school template. These larger program spaces for music, art, physical education, special education and science derive from Arlington’s Educational Program.
During the Schematic Design phase, more refined cost estimates will be created. These estimates will take into account square footage, building features, specific building materials, sustainability elements and other factors. At the end of the Schematic Design phase, a much more precise cost estimate will be available. Further estimates will be created as decisions are made during the Design Development phase.
There are many components that contribute to the estimated cost of the new high school. Many of these components are not present in high school projects in other towns and thus make direct cost comparisons difficult.
The MSBA process promotes the inclusion of all potential space requirements, project goals and needs in a town’s proposal (Preliminary Design Program and Preferred Schematic Report). Districts are allowed to pare the project down after MSBA approval at the conclusion of the feasibility study, but they cannot add more space or requirements to the project during the Schematic Design phase (where we are today).
In Arlington’s case, various School/Town administrative functions were included as they are currently housed in the high school. These offices are under active scrutiny for possible relocation, but they will be included in the current cost estimates until there is a clear plan for where these School/Town administrative functions can be housed.
The current high school is home to more than high school students. The facility also includes:
- Menotomy Preschool, the town’s state-mandated special education inclusion preschool.
- Arlington Public Schools central administration offices.
- Arlington Community Education.
- LABBB and other educational programs (LABBB is a special education collaborative program for Lexington, Arlington, Burlington, Bedford and Belmont school districts).
- Combined Town and School departments (Information Technology, Facilities & Maintenance, Comptroller, Payroll).
Additional factors which will impact the final cost include site contamination mitigation, foundation preparation, ground water control (Mill Brook runs under the site), site elevation changes, and inclusion of sustainability features.
Estimating the anticipated contribution from the MSBA (Mass. School Building Authority) is also a multifactorial, iterative process. One factor will be the reimbursement rate which is the percentage of reimbursable costs that the MSBA will cover.
MSBA reimbursement rates are set by Massachusetts General Law and follow a set formula. There is a base rate of 31% which is adjusted based on community socio-economics. This rate can then be potentially increased by Incentive Points for things such as “High Efficiency Green School Program” and “Best Practices for Routine and Capital Maintenance.”
But there are also numerous items which will not be covered by MSBA reimbursement. These items include:
- Mitigation of site contamination
- School administration and Town offices
- Arlington Community Education
- Construction costs beyond MSBA’s allowed per square foot cost
- Site preparation
The preliminary estimated impact to taxpayers is $801 per year, based on an average single family home valued at $655,985 and assuming a 30 year level debt at 4% interest.
Once the Schematic Design is approved by the MSBA (anticipated April 2019), Arlington and the MSBA will enter into a Project Scope and Budget Agreement, which confirms the scope, budget and schedule for the proposed school. Upon execution, Arlington will then have 120 days to secure funding and local approvals. Town Meeting must approve the appropriation of the approved funds by a 2/3 vote. Town Meeting can approve the appropriation contingent upon a successful debt exclusion vote. A special election debt exclusion vote is anticipated for June 2019.
Only after local approval and funding is secured, can the design efforts continue into the Design Development and Construction Documents phases with Bidding and Construction phases to follow in 2020.
If the debt exclusion vote for the new school does not pass, Arlington loses the opportunity for the MSBA to contribute funds to the project at this time and Arlington can either move forward without MSBA funding, or resubmit a statement of interest and begin the lengthy process over again.