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Hingham officials offer cost comparisons for Middle School options

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 17, 2011 12:53 AM

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A design for the middle school front two facades. The large drum focal point has since been lowered in updated designs.

Although the cost of a new Hingham Middle School are still largely up in the air, School Committee members on Wednesday said that a building a new school would cost less than renovating or adding to the existing school.

According to School Committee member Ray Estes, if factors such as inflation, building contingencies, and soft costs to added to the original 2006 construction estimate, the renovation/addition option would cost $63.1 million.

Option two, which would entail the demolition of majority of the building while keeping and renovating the existing science wing, would cost $65.2 million.

Option three, an all-new school, would cost $58.7 million, based off information extrapolated from 2006.

A breakdown of these estimates can be found HERE.

The contrasting costs were given after selectmen requested the breakdown last week. Especially in these economic times, they said, a comparison of all the costs would be wise.

The town is seeking to follow through with a fourth option – a new building under the state's Model School Program, which uses designs from previously built schools, thus cutting some of the costs.

If the town follows through with that plan, townspeople will be asked to approve an estimated $50 million to $57 million debt exclusion override at Special Town Meeting this fall.

By using the Model School approach, the Massachusetts School Building Authority is expected to reimburse the town between 40 and 44.42 percent of the costs, further driving down the final cost to the town.

Estes also noted that “these numbers were contemplated before we knew of the structural failures of the current building that occurred this past winter. That makes the prospect of those two [renovation] options much more challenging and costly, and we can’t quantify that,” Estes said.

Although it is likely that the fourth option of the model middle school will be the most cost effective for the town, the exact cost is still undetermined. Estimators are continuing to work on the figure, and should produce a fairly concrete number in the coming weeks.

Although the model school aspect of the building should help lower overall costs, some factors could bring that number back up again. Rates per square foot remain hard to nail down, and earlier estimates were based off a total of 164,000 square feet. The current design is for 176,385.

The additional space is due to an auditorium that wasn't included in the model plan. It also enlarges the gym to fit the student body's current population.

Although some things have been added, Estes was quick to assure community members that the committee is not being frivolous in its requests.

An indoor walking track, which was a part of the model school design, was taken out. And while more expensive smaller bricks would be used on the front two facades of the building, less expensive materials will be used in the back half of the building.

The result is a building that fits in with the town, but is not extravagant, Estes said.

For some, it wasn’t good enough.

“It looks like a hotel down in Boston. We have a moral obligation to make this as cost effective as possible,” said Lizzie Eldredge, a member of the Advisory Committee.

“The proposal to spend more than $50 million at this point on a middle school is inappropriate and unwise,” agreed resident Beth Rockoft, who lives on Pleasant Street.

She said oftentimes people who oppose School Committee projects are labeled as unsupportive of the children and teachers. That is not the case, she said, it’s a matter of funding.

“We need to focus on the recruitment and retention of the best teachers, pay them well, and fund the health care benefits of what we’ve proposed them… we owe it to our students to focus our remaining tax dollars primarily on our teachers and not on a new building,” she said.

Regardless of the protests, retired School Committee member Christine Smith reminded fellow residents that they had already basically approved this project.

“The ship has sailed,” she said. “Town Meeting voted for a feasibility study. We can’t change that Town Meeting vote, and we’re going to have another special Town Meeting… now do I want to spend $50 million? No, but it’s our responsibility as stewards of this town [to do so].”

School Committee members will meet with selectmen on Sept. 6 to discuss more specific numbers of the middle school, which officials will be discussing with MSBA officials this week.

The selectmen will vote on a Special Town Meeting at their meeting on Aug. 30.

At Wednesday's meeting, selectmen also voted to approve CPC contingencies for the Veterans House to stretch out the timing of the project. They also took under advisement policies for Bare Cove Park, for the Greenbush Trust, and for a historical plan for the town's documents.

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