When Mayor Kirk announced in her inaugural address that the city would be moving forward with its longstanding plan to renovate or replace West Parish School, some people thought this to be a new initiative.
The reality is, the School Department had been aware since 2002 that West Parish School, built in 1948, had long passed its life expectancy and was in need of major renovations or replacement.
Unfortunately, the Massachusetts School Building Authority was still within the Department of Education and in financial difficulty. Since then, the agency was shut down and is now under the control of the state treasurer.
With the reorganization came much stricter oversight of projects and a more stable financial structure. When applications opened up again in 2008, the School Committee and City Council both voted unanimously to submit a Statement of Interest to the MSBA for all of our school buildings currently in use.
In October-November 2009, the City Council and School Committee renewed their commitment and again both voted unanimously to continue the applications. The MSBA responded that we needed to prioritize our requests and West Parish was determined to be the most pressing need. West Parish was accepted as project by the MSBA and entered a period of eligibility.
In 2010, because of the catastrophic failure of the water system and the expense involved, the city asked for and received a three-year extension of eligibility for West Parish. In January 2012, the School Committee once again reaffirmed its commitment to proceed with the West Parish School project by unanimously voting to renew our application.
Under new MSBA procedures, two of the new requirements to qualify for reimbursement are the hiring of an MSBA approved "owner's project manager (OPM) and conducting a feasibility study prior to final approval and construction."
The owner's project manager represents both the MSBA and the city throughout the entire process from conception to completion. The OPM will be the building committee's onsite representative during the entire project which includes, feasibility and design process, advise on cost control, scheduling, budget amendment, value engineering progress reports, designer selection, bidding, construction and close out. The person or firm selected for this position by the Building Committee will have to be certified as a school project designer and an owners project manager as well as a registered architect or engineer with five years' experience.
The feasibility study will determine whether West Parish should be repaired, renovated or replaced. It is a comprehensive piece of work that will take us from a needs assessment to a schematic design of the new school.
The $500,000 seems like a lot of money until you consider the amount of work that will be done. The firm to be selected by the Building Committee will do an assessment of the existing facility which including an educational program space requirement.
They will evaluate the site as well as look at alternative sites. They will develop three possible alternative plans. The Building Committee will select one of the alternatives. They will develop a design for the new school and the site work, do a cost analysis, develop a project timeline, certify the property title and obtain permits including an environmental assessment and present the final schematic report to the MSBA and the community. When completed the only further design work needed would be mechanical and electrical.
The need to renovate or replace West Parish School is apparent to those who use the facility on a daily basis. The delivery of education to children has changed dramatically since 1948 and that includes spatial demands.
A new West Parish School does not solve all of our school building issues, but it is the first step in bringing Gloucester Public Schools into the 21st Century.
Jonathan Pope is chairman of the Gloucester School Committee.