Follow-up letter to Finance Committee 4/11/16

April 11, 2016

Dear Members of the Finance Committee,

I appreciated the opportunity to speak with you on March 31 about Article 38 and our elementary school buildings. The following are responses to the questions raised during that meeting and a more detailed explanation of the data presented. Please let me know if you require further clarification or if I have neglected to address any of your concerns.

  1. How much money would be required to perform a critical analysis of the existing cost estimates for renovation of Wildwood and Fort River Elementary Schools and to provide an alternative and system-specific renovation plan?

I have spoken to a number of architectural and contracting firms. This is a difficult question to answer without having direct access to the buildings and reviewing the materials available, but it was suggested that $30-40K would allow for a second opinion on the existing cost estimates and at least an initial evaluation of whether renovation of these buildings could be approached in a manner that is more fiscally conservative and that allows for decision-making based on prioritized needs. I have seen these types of study referred to as Peer Reviews, Independent Project Reviews, and Third Party Audits and there are firms who specifically perform this sort of work on major capital projects.

 

  1. Are there implications of pursuing an independent analysis of renovation costs on the current MSBA Feasibility Study?

I have spoken with a representative from the MSBA to try to get a clear answer to this question, as it is not my intent to jeopardize our participation in the MSBA process but rather to make sure we have thoroughly explored all of our options. The MSBA representative is unable to address this question with me, as I have no official standing or position in this process as an individual citizen. Instead, she recommended that a member of this committee, the Select Board, or another Town official, could speak with her directly and she would be happy to discuss this issue further.   Her contact information: Diane Sullivan, (617) 960-3076.

 

  1. What is the anticipated timeframe of this second look at renovation and how does it fit in to the deadlines of the current proposal?

If Town Meeting voted favorably on this request, it would likely occur in the summer (Request for Proposal, interviews, contract, audit/review). This would leave time to consider the findings prior to final Town decision-making on the project.

The most recent timeline from OPM on the project indicates a Debt Exclusion Vote at the time of the General Election on November 8, 2016 followed by a Town Meeting Vote to Approve Project Scope and Budget on November 16, 2016. The most critical deadline is 30 months from the execution of the Feasibility Study agreement on October 9, 2014. At that time, the District and MSBA must have arrived at a Project Scope and Budget Agreement for the proposed project. Deadlines within the Feasibility Study are important but flexible, as evidenced by two variances that have already occurred in this process (the delay in votes on the Educational Plan and Preliminary Design Program after it was pointed out that grade configuration did not in fact have to be a settled matter by November, and the delay of the District’s request for MSBA Board review of the Preferred Schematic Report from March to May because the MSBA felt that “the District would benefit from having additional time to further develop and refine the preferred solution”).

 

  1. Will a renovated building have the same expected longevity as that of a newly constructed building?

The regulations governing the School Building Grant Program state that “Any project for the construction of a new school facility, or for the addition to or renovation of an existing school facility for which an Eligible Applicant is seeking partial funding from the Authority shall have an anticipated useful life of at least 50 years as a public school in the Eligible Applicant’s school district.” (963 CMR 2.03b; http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/sites/default/files/edit-contentfiles/Documents/Stats_Regs/MSBA_Regs_Program_April-10.pdf) Thus, any renovation would have to meet those qualifications.

 

  1. What MSBA projects does our comparison data include, and what MSBA projects are included in that from the Superintendent’s office?

The projects in the table I provide (“MSBA ES/MS renovation projects”, now updated showing 4% annual increase to get 2017 figures so as to be use the same increase as that used on the District’s table) comprise all of the MSBA addition/renovation projects performed on elementary and middle schools since 2010, so as to allow close comparison with elementary renovation projects. All but two of the MSBA projects listed in the table from the Superintendent’s office (in their letter to the Finance Committee, undated, sent prior to the March 31, 2016 meeting) were new construction, and one of the addition/renovation projects was for a high school with an extensive addition.

 

  1. Where can you review the Code Upgrade Cost Estimate discrepancies?

In my presentation to you, I referenced a difference between the two Code Upgrade cost estimates from the two firms used by the OPM: $19M from A.M. Fogarty vs. $14M from PM&C. This information can be found within the materials from the presentation to the joint School Committee and School Building Committee (http://wildwood.projects.joslinlesser.com/download/presentations%20wildwood/2016-01-13-WSBC-and-ASC-Jointing-Meeting-Presentation.pdf , p. 13) and the Preferred Schematic Report (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By0mz4P0v3bWVHF1OVZ0NXY5X3M/view?pref=2&pli=1, p. 451, 456-7) and are summarized in the spreadsheet that is included (“Cost Comparisons”).

 

  1. Further detail about the renovation cost estimates, using data available in the Feasibility Study’s Preferred Schematic Report

While the cost estimates for renovation of the existing Wildwood presented in January are simply square-footage based, we do have more detailed figures from the second large document submitted by the OPM (the Preferred Schematic Report). The MSBA process specifically requires that one of the final considered options be a renovation and that it include system-specific cost estimates. In this case, that was provided in the form of a renovation of the current building plus an addition to serve the co-located school.  Because the renovated area is the same as the current structure, an analysis of this data may act as a proxy for the renovation cost estimates we seek.

My calculations using this method result in costs per sq ft of $310-312, figures that are more in-line with those from those of other MSBA renovation projects (median of $300/sf) than the square foot estimates provided by the Superintendent’s Office ($338/sf ). See attached spreadsheet (“Cost Comparisons”).

Also included for comparison on this table are the figures from the two cost estimating firms for the District’s proposed structure. Here, the AM Fogarty estimate is less expensive ($421/sf) than that from PM&C ($448/sf). This is important because only the AM Fogarty estimates, lower for new construction and higher for renovation relative to PM&C, have been presented publicly.

 

  1. Have you already communicated your concerns directly with the School Administration?

It is important to put this request in the larger context of the process that has been conducted thus far. Since the fall, when the Wildwood Building Project was first presented to the community at a public forum, I and other residents have expressed our concerns and questions in a number of formats: public forums, statements and questions at committee meetings, letters to and meetings with representatives of the Superintendent’s Office, School Committee, and School Building Committee meetings.

Renovation has been described as cost-prohibitive from the onset of this process, even before cost estimates were available. Repeated requests were made for figures to support this claim, including the detailed estimates that would address the costs to correct specific deficiencies noted by School officials. I was informed by a representative of the Superintendent’s Office that this information would be forthcoming, including for the renovation of Wildwood as a 360 student school.   However, this data unfortunately never was produced and once the School Committee voted in favor of the 750 student school, the School Building Committee was instructed that any option that did not conform to this configuration would receive no further consideration within the process. The result was that neither renovation or new construction of the existing Wildwood School nor the twin K-6 option that would have housed Wildwood and Fort River students would not be examined beyond the cost per square foot estimates that had been already been done.

Having no other avenue through which to acquire the information that could answer the questions about the feasibility of renovation to solve the problems at our elementary schools, we turn to the Town as the body with the authority to provide this information before completion of the MSBA Feasibility Study and its possibility of state funding.

 

Summary

To reiterate our intent, the purpose of this Article is to provide the Town and Town Meeting members with the most complete and accurate set of data with which to approach decisions regarding the Elementary School Building Project. Our own analysis suggests that renovation of the current structures may not be as expensive as has been presented. Ours, however, is not an official accounting of these costs. It would be preferable if the Town itself could provide the critical oversight required, but if this is not possible then we propose that an independent party perform a review of this project.

Thank you again for your thoughtful and extremely helpful questions and responses. I look forward to speaking with you again this week.

Respectfully,

Maria Kopicki

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