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High school on time, under budget

Date: 3/5/2012

March 5, 2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea couldn't be happier with the way the process for the new Minnechaug Regional High School (MRHS) has turned out.

On March 1, O'Shea, along with MRHS principal Stephen Hale, members of the School Building Committee (SBC) and representatives from Mount Vernon Group Architects and Arcadis US Inc., outlined the status of the new building, the details of the forthcoming demolition of the old building, and the overall cost of the project, calling it a bargain for the towns of Hampden and Wilbraham.

"I really, confidently, will say that I think we got the best deal of any school in the state," O'Shea said. "I really feel like that's the level of affordability that we are bringing here."

Presenting a graph comparing the cost of the construction, O'Shea pointed out that $26.2 million in local effort was needed to complete the project after the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) invested $36.9 million of the total $61.1 million of the main school building for a 61.73 percent reimbursement rate. The figures excluded the pool and district office portion of the project.

"I only included the main school building because I wanted an apples-to-apples comparison," he explained.

Compared to the MRHS project, Longmeadow secured a $33 million in reimbursement from the MSBA on its $78.4 million project, leaving the town responsible for approximately $44 million. West Springfield, while receiving 80 percent reimbursement on its school project, was on the hook for $38 million of its $107.1 million project.

The district was able to secure its high reimbursement rate by utilizing the Model School Program, which brought with it an additional 5 percent reimbursement. Its "sustainable, efficient design" qualified it for an additional 2 percent and HWRSD's "proven maintenance practices" garnered an additional 1 percent, O'Shea added.

The $61.1 million figure for the main school building comes in far lower than the original Project Funding Agreement, which was $78.9 million at the project's inception. Originally the towns were expected to contribute $31.6 million to the main school building project.

"There were all these experts estimating what the cost of this project would be. The MSBA had its own expert estimators who said this project would cost $83 million," SBC Chair John Lovejoy said. "In the end, all of these experts were wrong."

The pool and district office construction, which is not reimbursed by the MSBA, will cost an additional $5.4 million. That, along with $924,281 in change orders and other additional costs, bumps the total project cost $67.5 million with HWRSD responsible for $32.6 million of that total.

The original budget authorized by the town was $34.9 million, creating $2.3 million in uncommitted funds. However, due to bonding costs, the construction of an outdoor restroom facility for the sports fields, and an additional $559,621 toward the furniture, equipment and technology portion of the project, the district anticipates having an ending balance of $1.4 million in uncommitted funds.

"These uncommitted funds, or unrealized savings as they're sometimes referred to, will help us lower our borrowing costs," O'Shea said.

Prior to the financial presentation, O'Shea showed multiple videos and photos of the school building. David Owen of Mount Vernon Group Architects said during the presentation that the new building was constructed to keep with the colonial style of many of the homes in the area, both in terms of architecture on the outside and accents on the inside. In the corridors, as well as the auditorium, black molding surrounding oak panels simulate classic colonial style.

The new school's HVAC system will include dehumidification equipment and will change the air in a classroom four times every hour.

"This is so the rooms can feel more comfortable than it would if you opened a window to let fresh air in," Owen said.

Natural lighting is a major component of the construction, as several areas of the building's roofs have window panels allowing for sunlight to illuminate hallways. Classrooms are also equipped with photosensitive lighting that dims and brightens based on the level of natural light available.

"Conceivably if there was enough [natural] light, the lights wouldn't come on at all," Owen said.

The school will also have extensive networking, which will link all classrooms, allowing, for example, a class to watch a presentation taking place in the auditorium without having to ever leave the classroom. Hardwired and wireless Internet will also be provided throughout the building, which will support both PC and Macintosh technology, as well as tablets.

O'Shea and Hale explained to the approximately 30 residents of Hampden and Wilbraham in attendance that faculty and staff have already begun the process of preparing for the move to the new building, partially because some sections must be vacated 14 school days prior to the last day of class, barring any weather cancellations.

Four classrooms in J hall, as well as the media center, the small cafeteria and the teachers' dining room, must be vacated in order for asbestos abatement to begin. Classes that take place in those rooms have already been scheduled for relocation. Parents were assured that the abatement process would not affect the students educationally or in terms of health.

The reason for the early vacancy of this section of the building, Owen explained, is because that portion of the school stands where the east access road to the new building is designed to exist. With an anticipated date of completion for that road of July 27, abatement must begin on May 25.

The entire old building must be vacated of all faculty and staff by July 20, at which time demolition would begin.

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