In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts School Building Authority governs school building projects.
The benefits of working with the MSBA are twofold:
A.) The MSBA closely regulates and monitors all aspects of the entire construction process, thus ensuring that from start to finish the work is of the highest quality;
B.) In working through the MSBA, the city of Gloucester stands to receive a minimum of a 48 percent reimbursement for the entire project.
In early 2012, the city of Gloucester was accepted by the Massachusetts School Building Authority to develop plans for an addition, renovation, or new construction of the West Parish Elementary School.
This acceptance was the result of an initial “statement of interest” — first submitted back in 2009, but was delayed and then raised again in 2012 as an interest on the part of the city and the School Department. That statement of interest, then and now, was voted upon and supported by the City Council.
Having been approved, the District (city and School Department) entered into what is termed an eligibility period. Based upon information submitted to the MSBA, we were then invited to enter into the next phase of the process, the feasibility study. Funding for the feasibility study was unanimously approved by the City Council.
The purpose of the feasibility study is to have professional engineers and architects study the conditions for the project and provide that information to a designer. This review requires an analysis of all aspects of the current conditions of the buildings as well as the grounds around the buildings for possible construction capability (ledge, clay, wetlands, etc.).
The designer uses that information to develop several possibilities for a new West Parish: either adding to the existing building, renovating the existing building, or constructing a new building.
While the physical spaces were being analyzed, school department personnel were working with the consultants (Dore and Whittier) on developing an “educational narrative” which discusses many aspects of the current and future educational programs.
This narrative includes statements about the number and type of classrooms, class sizes, technology capability for the 21st-century, transportation, and a preliminary sense of how a school should be laid out based upon both school-based and community use needs for the building. This narrative can be found on our homepage at www.gloucesterschools.com .
Over the last few months, the School Building Committee (composed of city personnel, school personnel, parents, and community members) has been meeting on a nearly biweekly basis with the owners project manager (who oversees the entire project) and the designer for the following reasons:
To review the results of the site investigations and extensive analysis of both the current West Parish site and the Fuller site;
To review actual schemes (preliminary drawings) that would ultimately result in a series of possible projects going forward.
To decide, eventually, on which of the schemes to prioritize.
As part of its deliberations, the School Building Committee has been examining each scheme on the basis of cost, scheduling, and feasibility. At present, exact costs have not been determined although we are aware that some scenarios will cost more than others.
What has been discussed, however, is that each scheme is going to include trade-offs whether it is for relocating students or for altering construction methods and scheduling.
Regarding the West Parish site, the most important issue at this stage is whether to build the West Parish school behind the existing school (new) or on the existing footprint (addition/renovation or new).
Because of the School Building Committee’s awareness of the importance of the West Parish community’s thoughts and feelings for how students will be accommodated, a meeting was held on June 18.
At that meeting, two basic reactions were noted. The community indicated that they are very concerned about having school in session at the school while construction is taking place. The extent of disruption cannot be minimized and delaying construction would add significantly to the overall cost of the project.
On the other hand, parents expressed concern about having West Parish students separated into different locations during construction. In other words, if we are to move students out during construction, we should find a way to have the entire school move to a temporary location. The district is looking into this option.
Richard Safier is superintendent of the Gloucester Public Schools.