With barely a quorum, the School Building Committee voted yesterday to approve the Schematic Design for submission to the MSBA. This is the final design plan for the building, meaning that while small adjustments are permitted, and expected as unanticipated needs arise, no major changes will be allowed if the MSBA approves it.
The architects began by again showing site plans that increase the number of parking spaces to a total of 192 and add an exit road to ease traffic leaving the parking area and parent pick-up loop. A roundabout was added so that vehicles that enter campus during the school day can leave without driving around one of the play areas. To explain: the bus loop encircles the hardscape play areas of one of the “co-located schools”. They intend to gate off the entrance to the loop when children could be out there but that would leave vehicles entering from that direction with no way to exit; hence, the roundabout before the gate.
In response to some concerns over the amount of outdoor play space, the architects showed a slide that indicated “Rule of Thumb” figures for how many square feet per student at each type of play area (75 for “playscapes”; 100 for hard surface; 150 for grassy field). It was unclear to me whose rules these are (State mandated? Average? Minimal?); I will try to find that out. They did not specifically say how many square feet there are in the plans and the scale on the slides they have made available thus far are not readable, but they claimed that the sizes are adequate for the number of children expected to be outside at any given time. More detailed information should be available in the actual Schematic Design document that they say should be made publicly available “soon”.
One committee member asked about whether there has been official permission given to use the Middle School property (the site plan calls for one “co-located school” to use the fields below the hill as their grassy field play area). Morris and Yaffe said that the middle school under-uses this field so there would be room for the elementary school students to share the space. The committee member pushed back and asked again whether there was a firm commitment that this space COULD be used (it is not part of the Wildwood campus and therefore not “town owned”). She also pointed out that this space represented the largest outdoor area by far and it would be problematic to learn later in the process that it is NOT available. Morris said that was a School Committee decision.
Solar? Alternative energy sources?
One slide showed solar panels on one part of the roof BUT the current plan does not include the use of any photovoltaics as an energy source. They say the building will be “solar ready”, meaning that solar panels will be ABLE to be installed at some point in the future. The budget for the project is maxed out so there is no money left to actually have the panels.
After the meeting, I asked a committee member to clarify what the energy source for the building would be since this did not get discussed during the previous meetings (it has been discussed at the sustainability subcommittee meetings). The building will be using a boiler that can use either oil or natural gas (so, conventional, carbon-based energy sources). The ventilation system (displacement ventilation diffusers) is a fairly new design concept and is anticipated to be more efficient than the mixed flow ventilation used now.
MSBA reimbursement rate
The OPM discussed a form required by the MSBA that lays out project costs. In “late breaking news”, they reported that the base reimbursement rate for Amherst is NOT the 68% they have been using all along but is actually 64%. This is a rate based on community income, property wealth, and poverty factors. The OPM has been using an older formula that primarily used the number of children on free and reduced lunch; however, the legislature had since amended this formula. Apparently, there have been many conference calls and attempts to “resolve this issue”. The bottom line is that while the Total Project Cost (still over $67 million) will not change, the Maximum Total Facilities Grant from the MSBA will decrease so the Town’s portion will be nearer the higher end of estimates that have been given so far (~$33 million accordingly to the numbers provided on the form).
How to sell it?
They ended the meeting by wondering how to present this plan to Town Meeting that has to vote on appropriating funding in the fall and to the general public that has to vote on the ballot question on November 8. The answer given was that they need to “share accurate information”. A request was made by committee members to be provided with “talking points”, something the OPM said they would provide.