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School Committee chooses architect for new high school

Posted by Tom Coakley  August 18, 2009 01:27 AM

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The Natick School Committee has voted unanimously to enter into negotiations with the architecture firm Ai3 to design the new Natick High School.

Ai3 was ranked first by the town’s High School Building Committee in a competition with other firms. It must now show that it can adapt its standard high school design to fit Natick’s educational needs and the requirements of the school site.

Ai3 was among the firms to present proposals last week to the building committee under the Model Schools program of the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The program permits greater state reimbursement for schools built according to one of several standard designs, which are modified for community needs.

The School Committee vote followed hours of discussion that included observations on Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, the basis for the Ai3 design. There were also requests to select Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, the building committee’s second choice.

Speakers praised the presentation that SMMA gave last week at the building committee meeting where they offered a virtual tour of Hudson High School, their design example.

Lorraine Magee, who will soon be a junior at Natick High, said she prefers the Hudson School model because it would make it easy for parents and the public to attend theater productions and sports events.

“It’s very important to me and many, many students that the extracurriculars are thought of in this process,” Magee said. “And Ibelieve the auditorium and gym should be really close to the front of the school and I believe the Hudson School highlights that. “

But speaker Cathy Collins said she believed a design like the Whitman-Hanson school would be better meet Natick’s educational needs.

“We’re building a school here, and first and foremost the design must support and enhance the educational mission,” Collins said. “There’s an old advertising adage that says ‘sell sizzle, not steak,’ but as I teach my students, the buyer needs to focus on the steak because the sizzle won’t feed you. Ai3 is steak, SMMA was sizzle.”

Other speakers and members of the School Committee who talked in favor of the Ai3 proposal emphasized the firm’s commitment to providing an environment conducive to learning and its established reputation.

“If I’m going to spend 10 or 20 thousand dollars to buy a used car I do my research, I comparison shop, I go out to look at the car,” said School Committee member Dave Murphy. “If we’re going to spend $90 million of taxpayer money on a high school, you should expect that we’d do the same thing. And we did travel to the schools, we walked through them, it was clear to me that Whitman-Hanson is a far superior school than the Hudson School.”

Committee members said that after touring the schools, they determined that Whitman-Hanson was better for learning, had higher safety standards, and was built with more durable material. Additionally,the Ai3 model comes with technology built into each classroom under the contract, whereas with other models similar technology may come at an additional cost.

The Model School program saves money on school building by keeping design costs low and expedites the construction process. Natick could gain an extra $4.5 million in reimbursement from the state school building authority under the program.

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