WHS Project Meets Three Goals
On November 4, Town Meeting members approved by a wide margin (153 to 5) the appropriation of funds to rebuild Winchester High School (WHS), subject to the override ballot question passing on December 10. The Board of Selectmen and School Committee both unanimously support the project and the ballot question.
The Finance Committee provided Town Meeting with its recommendation that the appropriation be approved. Finance Committee Chair Michelle Prior stated, “The design for the high school renovation/addition addresses all identified building, space and program deficiencies in a reasonable time frame, and in a fiscally prudent manner, capitalizing on MSBA reimbursement of approximately 1/3 of the cost of the project.”
As Winchester residents consider their vote for December 10th, many may ask if Winchester’s share of $85.4M for the project is a smart investment at this time.
A rebuilt high school solves three problems, and costs $85.4M with substantial financial aid from the state.
Winchester articulated three goals for a high school project: 1) meet current standards for educational programming; 2) provide adequate space for enrollment of 1370; and 3) update/repair the facility to meet codes.
If the override is approved on December 10, the three problems are solved with a comprehensive rebuilding of WHS, to be completed by fall 2017 with a maximum cost of $129.9M — $85.4M from Winchester and $44.5M from the state (MSBA).
If the override is not approved and Winchester does not have a comprehensive solution for WHS, we must still address pressing and expensive repairs to the facility. Moving mechanical systems out of the basement, providing moisture barriers and insulation at ground level and exterior walls, some site work for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access, and adding fire sprinklers are likely first priorities.
Beginning July 2014, certain repairs trigger new energy code requirements, such as replacing the roof, windows and exterior doors; removing hazardous materials; and making updates to electric and plumbing (MEP) and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.
Meanwhile, the estimated 200 additional students progressing toward the high school will need classrooms and related instructional space.
Architects SMMA have analyzed what the costs might be if the Town were to address only building and minimal ADA code requirements (minimally solving enrollment pressures with portable core classrooms). SMMA estimated construction and design contingency costs at approximately $62M, not including soft costs of approximately 20% ($12M) more. While these estimates have not been as fully vetted as the proposed project, they provide an informed view of the cost of just immediate repairs.
With this a la carte approach, Winchester does not receive the benefits of any educational program improvements — updated science labs, technology infrastructure upgrades, special education spaces — or additional energy efficiencies. Repairs would be spread over a longer time period (minimum of 4 years) and annual construction cost escalation of 4% would need to be anticipated.
The Town does not have sufficient funds to accomplish these repairs. Taxpayers would be asked to pass one or more override votes to raise the necessary revenue. MSBA assistance would be unlikely, as these short-term repairs do not address the educational goals identified for WHS, and would demand restarting a process estimated to cause at least three years’ delay. $44.5M of approved Commonwealth funding would likely be lost.
If the override vote does not pass, town leaders would need to return to the drawing board, carefully reprioritize all needs, and, in the absence of a community-supported comprehensive solution, make the case for residents to support funding for short-term solutions to the most urgent problems.
The Board of Selectmen, School Committee, EFPBC, and State officials agree that with the proposed plan Winchester can receive long-term, and comprehensive solution that addresses all three project goals—a $129.9 million value at a cost of $85.4M.
The WHS Project Communications Working Group
Jennifer Wilson, Board of Selectmen
Cindy Bohne, School Committee
Bob Deering, EFPBC Chair
Richard Howard, Town Manager
William McAlduff, Superintendent of Schools
Charles Tseckares, EFPBC
Linda Rossetti, EFPBC