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 were also included.
- During the Schematic Design phase (September 2018 – April 2019), the design and budget for all spaces and programs is further refined.
- At the conclusion of the Schematic Design phase, the Building Committee evaluates each feature and pares costs to reach a final proposed budget.
In February, the Building Committee voted to submit an approximate project budget of $291M to the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA). This represents a $17M decrease from the original Feasibility Phase project estimate of $308M.
The 411,360 square foot all-new construction design concept with a design enrollment of 1,755 will serve students in grades 9-12. 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 were created. These estimates took into account square footage, building features, specific building materials, sustainability elements and other factors.
- Project Budget Announcement
- Ponderings Blog: Arriving at the final budget
- Ponderings Blog: Cost cutting measures to-date
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 originally included as they are currently housed in the high school. In an effort to reduce the square footage of the new facility, and thereby the overall project cost to taxpayers, the Building Committee has evaluated possible relocation of non-AHS programs that currently reside in the facility.
The decision was made to move the Comptroller to Town Hall and the IT and Facilities departments to the future DPW facility. In addition, the original space for the Payroll office in the building has been removed, the district office space has been reconfigured to accommodate Payroll personnel, and most Payroll storage will be moved to Town Hall.
HMFH Architects performed a cost/space analysis on the potential use of the Parmenter School for the Menotomy Preschool and district administration offices. After reviewing the study results and a discussion of the pros and cons, the Building Committee voted to use the Parmenter School only as a temporary location for Menotomy Preschool during construction of AHS and not for permanent relocation of either the preschool or the district administration offices.
- Ponderings Blog: Parmenter School Analysis
- Ponderings Blog: High School Benchmarks: We are not alone
- Detailed Cost Factors Matrix
- Ponderings Blog: Cost Contributors Explained
The current high school is home to more than high school students. The new facility will also include these educationally-related programs and resources that are part of the Arlington Public Schools umbrella:
- 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 Payroll offices.
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 estimated per household impact to taxpayers is approximately $800 per year, based on an average assessed single- family home property value of $752,184 and assuming a 30 year level debt at 4% interest. The exact taxpayer impact will be determined in April when Arlington and the MSBA finalize Arlington’s share of the project as part of the Project Scope and Budget Agreement.
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 planned for June 11.
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.
Interested in general financial matters of the Town of Arlington? Check out ACMi’s series Your Arlington Dollar for in-depth discussions with Town officials.