Cost Contributors Explained


Building a new high school is a huge undertaking and there are many considerations when estimating its cost. In this series of two blog posts, these cost contributors will be broken down and explained. This post covers the costs that are unique to Arlington High School as detailed in the spreadsheet below. The next blog will address the project estimate and estimating process.

It is important to note that the current facility is not just a high school. The facility also serves as an important Town resource, housing the Town’s special education preschool, Arlington Community Education and Town/School offices. Current cost estimates include all programs and services currently in the facility as well as unique drivers related to the project’s net-zero sustainability goal and complex soil and site conditions

The Big Picture

The Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) process promotes the inclusion of all potential space requirements, project goals and needs early in the process. Districts are allowed to pare the project down after the Feasibility Phase, but they cannot add more space or requirements to the project during the Schematic Design phase (where we are today).  

Cost Contributors Overview

(view pdf)

Basic High School Education Program

One of the first steps in the process during the Feasibility Phase is to produce an Educational Program, which outlines the unique educational vision, priorities and needs.  

MSBA guidelines dictate the number of classrooms and size of common areas (cafeteria, gymnasium, auditorium, library) based on the Town’s design enrollment (1,755 students). In Arlington’s case, the basic high school education program portion of the future school is estimated to cost $218.2M.

Additional programs and services that support the Educational Program

AHS is a top-rated school with a robust academic curriculum.  The following additional spaces are required in order to fulfill Arlington’s Educational Program and maintain the high quality of education we deliver today.

Physical education

  • MSBA template provides for 12,000 sf main gym and 3,000 sf auxiliary PE space no matter the school enrollment.
  • AHS requires a 16,000 sf gym for expanding enrollment, and 7,000 and 3,000 sf alternative PE spaces to maintain existing programming.

Performing Arts

  • MSBA template provides an auditorium of ⅔ total enrollment, capped at 750 seats, plus a 1,600 sf stage.
  • AHS programming requires a 900 seat auditorium (= current capacity), 2,140 sf stage (= current size), and additional 3,000 sf Black Box theatre to maintain existing classes.

Library Learning Commons

  • MSBA template provides 10,869 sf for library, workrooms, conference rooms.
  • AHS Educational Program calls for a 12,550 sf Library Learning Commons. It is seen as the heart of the school with ample space for research and collaboration.  Includes private conference areas, workrooms and offices, and space for the existing Student Support Learning Center.

Band and Chorus rooms

  • MSBA template provides for 50 to 100 seat rooms regardless of enrollment.
  • AHS requires larger Band and Chorus rooms to accommodate growing programs (current 115 and 80 students respectively).

Larger Classrooms

  • MSBA template provides that all classrooms are 850 sf.
  • AHS requires 10% to be 950 sf to accommodate student enrollment and a variety of teaching and learning approaches.

Science Classrooms

  • MSBA template provides for 15 science classrooms.
  • AHS requires 17 science classrooms to accommodate enrollment growth.

Art Classrooms

  • MSBA template provides 3 art classrooms.
  • AHS requires 4 art classrooms (as exists currently) to maintain existing program.

The additional spaces necessary to fulfill the Educational Program represent $22.5M of the total estimated cost.


State mandated special education programs and services

Menotomy Preschool, serving approximately 100 children and growing, provides state and federally mandated inclusion-based education for preschool students who require special education services. Menotomy is an integrated school with ~50% general education students.  In addition, AHS students enrolled in the AHS Child Development program work in classrooms for essential, practical hands-on experience.

The LABBB Special Education Collaborative program, a partnership with Lexington, Burlington, Bedford and Belmont, provides holistic special education services to children through the age of 22.

Crucial components of the Arlington Public Schools, Menotomy Preschool and the LABBB Collaborative contribute to Arlington’s wide range of services and programs to meet the needs of all students. Spaces for these programs – currently residing in the building – are estimated at $20.6M.

Education-related operations

The Town’s school district administration offices, the thriving Community Education program, and the Town/School IT offices and equipment currently reside at AHS. The Town is working to determine if it is possible to retrofit the Parmenter School so it could serve as space for the school district administration offices and Payroll department. There would be costs to taxpayers for this work if it is done.

Community Education is an educational partner that makes use of the high school building during off hours to provide enrichment offerings to students and the community. Their offices are located in the high school, which is essential to the coordination and planning for classes.

Education-related operations represent $12M of the total estimated cost of the building.

Other Administrative Functions

The Town Comptroller, Facilities, and Payroll departments are also currently located at the high school. Some town offices were moved into the high school in the 1990s as the student population decreased.  The Town is working on a plan to move the Comptroller’s office to Town Hall and the Facilities office to the renovated Department of Public Works complex.

These offices represent $5M of the total estimated cost.

Sustainability features

The AHS Building Committee has set a goal for the building to reach net-zero.  A net-zero building produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year to reduce operating costs and the carbon footprint. The Sustainability subcommittee chose the LEED green building rating system for the design and they will be exploring technologies such as solar panels and a geothermal heating and cooling system (a very efficient way to heat and cool buildings).

This forward-thinking vision requires fully integrating sustainability into the design of the new high school and the plan submitted in the Preferred Schematic Report (PSR) to the MSBA in July reflects this.  A separate $23M estimate is listed because the scope of photovoltaic (solar) and geothermal technology was not fully defined when the PSR was submitted.

Resource: Blog: Sustainability at the new AHS

Site requirements

Lastly, AHS sits on a complicated site and there are many factors that make our site unique. There are contaminants throughout the site; PCE toward the front, chromium toward the rear. The chromium has been mitigated appropriately by capping with clean soil, asphalt and the buildings, PCE are monitored annually. Any disturbance to the soil means these contaminants must be readdressed.  In addition, there is 20-30 foot change in elevation from the front to the back of the site, and known soil issues that will require additional work before foundation footings are built. Finally, code requirements necessitate an upgrade of the athletic field toilet facility.

The required work to address unique site circumstances accounts for $7M in the cost estimate.

Refining the Budget

It is important to note that at this stage in the project, there are many unknowns.  During the Schematic Design phase, the design of the building will take shape and more analysis and research will be done, resulting in a more refined cost estimate that will become the project’s scope and budget.  

Note: Values are based on estimates included in the Preferred Schematic Report (PSR) dated 7/11/18 and are derived from square foot cost. Values include soft cost which is any costs associated with architectural, consultant fees and contingencies. Budget estimates are subject to change. Final budgets will not be determined until a Project Scope and Budget is approved by the MSBA.

Updated December 20, 2018

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