School project panel tackles complex issues

by Town Reminder

School project panel tackles complex issues
By Walter Hamilton
Turley Correspondent

GRANBY – The West Street School Building Committee agreed to meet more often to tackle the shifting scenarios of likely costs and state reimbursements as it navigates through the complicated process of planning a new school.
The committee at its March 5 meeting questioned cost assumptions by the architects and their consultants, and learned that at the current stage of the project planning, the answers to those questions depend on a plethora of state and federal regulations.
Mark B. Darnold, an engineering consultant with Berkshire Design Group, Inc., of Northampton, told committee members that the water and septic systems at the East Meadow School site may or may not be adequate to serve a new school building, and depends on expected student population, water use and interpretations of regulations by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The committee faces a series of deadlines set by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the state agency that may fund around 55 percent of the project that the committee on Feb. 26 narrowed to three options, all on the East Meadow School site.
They are: a new pre-K to grade 3 school and renovation of the existing East Meadow School costing $37-38 million, with Granby’s share $16.5-17.5 million; a new pre-K to grade 3 school with no renovation of the existing school costing $27-28 million with Granby’s share $12-13 million; and a new pre-K to grade 6 school, costing $38.5-39.5 million with Granby’s share $18-19 million and followed by the reuse or demolition of the existing school.
Jones Whitsett Architects of Greenfield has tweaked the costs as more information has been gathered and regulatory obligations better defined, according to architect Kristian Whitsett.
Darnold said the well at the site serves both the high school and elementary school and is located in front of the high school. An area circling the well is off limits to some activities, such as the use of pesticides. He said his research has determined the capacity of the well could be adequate for the addition of the extra students now at West Street School. That scenario would save the town the expense of digging a new well at the rear of the school property.
At the same time, the septic systems located at the rear of the schools would be adequate if the amount of water used by the schools did not exceed an amount that would require a wastewater treatment plant and manager along with other improvements and costs under Title 5 regulations. The amount of water usage therefore becomes crucial to the ultimate cost of the project. He said he is working on these issues with the DEP and the town’s Board of Health.
Water and sewer issues are only two of the many variables and unknowns posed by the project, leading at least two of the committee members – Town Administrator Christopher Martin and Finance Committeeman John J. Libera Jr. – to voice concerns that they do not feel comfortable with backing any of the three building scenarios without more information.
Whitsett told the committee that cost estimates will continue to fluctuate in a range similar to the estimates now before the committee.
Their concerns led to the board’s decision to increase the meetings from one a month. They were scheduled to meet on March 12 and March 19. The deadline for submitting a Preferred Schematic Design to the MSBA is April 16.
Both questioned comments by MSBA in its review of the Preliminary Design Program Submission for the project that the committee submitted in January. The MSBA sought more information of the existing educational program “and new or expanded educational vision, specifications, process, etc.”
The MSBA sought information on 15 different topics that included grade and configuration policies, class sizes, school scheduling, teaching methodology and structure, teacher planning and room assignment policies, pre-K and Kindergarten information, transportation, lunch, technology, security and visual access.
The MSBA also sought more information on code, zoning, accessibility, easements, wetlands, emergency access and safety. It also asked for a list of three alternatives. The committee designated those options at its Feb. 26 meeting.
Martin and Libera said they did not understand many of the items sought by the MSBA, and said they could not yet promote the project to other town officials on March 19 as had been scheduled. That informational meeting was postponed.
The schedule for the project now includes a June 3 final approval by the MSBA, design deadline by Sept. 30 and both a special town meeting and debt exclusion override vote in October and November.