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High school designers consider new construction, additions

Date: 7/27/2023

AGAWAM — As the feasibility study team for Agawam High School got ready to submit “preliminary designs” to a state board this month, city councilors on July 10 heard about the options on the table.

Linda Liporto of LeftField Project Management and Kent Kovacs of Flansburgh Architects told councilors that their preliminary report to the Massachusetts School Building Authority this month contains three broad visions for the project: Option 1, demolishing the existing school and building an entirely new 213,900-square foot building; Option 2, renovating 55,000 square feet of the current high school (the entrance facing Mill Street and the gym-cafeteria wing) and building a 158,900-square foot addition; and Option 3, renovating 97,000 square feet (the entrance facing Mill Street, gym-cafeteria wing, part of the main building and auditorium) and building 116,900 square feet.

“This is a major project,” Kovacs said. “This is not just coming in over the summer and renovating a gymnasium.”

Flansburgh and LeftField developed the options along with a School Building Committee consisting of Agawam residents and school and town officials. The team is working on renovating or replacing a 218,000-square foot school mainly built in 1955, with wings added in 1961, 1979 and 1995, and portions renovated in 1979, 2001 and 2016.

Though the current school is “in fair condition,” Liporto said, a no-addition option simply to bring it up to modern building codes would be “very tricky,” involving all-new electrical, insulation and fire protection systems, and would not address concerns about classrooms being too small and the inefficiency of the sprawling, one-story layout.

The MSBA has agreed to partner with the town on the renovation project, and will reimburse a percentage of the cost. How much reimbursement Agawam receives will depend on the cost and square footage.

Council President Christopher Johnson said he appreciated that Flansburgh had taken as its mission delivering “the most economically feasible project that delivers what the students need in the classroom.”

Liporto said the design team purposely did not propose “the Cadillac of buildings.”

Other councilors pressed Liporto and Kovacs for cost estimates, but Liporto said it’s too early to predict, both because the plans are very preliminary and because construction costs have fluctuated wildly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. She added that the cost differential between renovation and new construction has also been changing.

Councilor Robert Rossi said he’d rather talk about the plans themselves.

“I don’t want to get hung up on the cost,” Rossi said. “Next time we meet, I hope we can be talking about what’s in the best interest of our students.”

In each of the preliminary site plans, no construction is planned on the football and track stadium, tennis courts or baseball field, all of which were rebuilt in the mid-2010s. One of the Option 1 plans would build the new high school entirely on existing grass fields, avoiding the current building’s footprint, and require 24 months of construction. Other Option 1 plans, with buildings overlapping some current high school wings, would require phased construction and demolition, adding six months to the project. The partial-renovation plans are estimated to take 30 or 32 months to build, and require the installation of temporary classrooms, a cost of $5 million to $10 million that would not be reimbursed by the MSBA.

All of the Flansburgh proposals involve renovating a part of the old high school, in most cases the tech wing, as a 17,500-square foot pre-kindergarten center. All plans also envision adding a 1,400-square foot greenhouse.

According to a timeline presented by Liporto, by December the School Building Committee will receive a report on at least one addition-renovation plan, at least one new-construction plan and the option of keeping the entire current building and only making the renovations required by modern building codes. The committee will then determine a single preferred option in early 2024, to be presented to the MSBA in a request for funding.

“Part of the MSBA process is they require us to look at several different options,” said Liporto, but “the preferred option … is what’s determined by the town of Agawam and the community and the voters. The MSBA does not make that decision for you.”

If the project proceeds according to plan and receives the necessary approvals, construction would begin in spring 2025.

Liporto said the School Building Committee still wants to hear student, parent, staff and town resident thoughts on what Agawam needs in its new high school. The committee will host community forums 6-7:30 p.m. on Aug. 28, Sept. 28 and Oct. 17. For more information, visit