Letter published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Friday Jan. 27, 2017:
Amherst school proposal too expensive
Why can’t Amherst behave like a household? First, define our budget, then ask the architects and contractors to design according to that budget. And don’t forget to ask all household members what they would like to see in the new/remodeled house.
The total cost of the proposed project is not known, but we know it’s very expensive. We do know that the new school building will cost $67.2 million to host 750 students, out of which the state will reimburse up to $34 million; with interest, this leaves at least $54 million in debt to the town.
But we do not know all the other costs involved in this project. For instance, there is no complete estimate for retrofitting Crocker Farm, decommissioning Fort River, or improving the East Pleasant/Strong intersection.
Meanwhile, we know that annual transportation costs will go up because of the extra buses they will need but we don’t know how much it will cost to supervise all the kids as they wait around every morning and afternoon at school for their classmates coming from the other school. These costs are all on top of the $54 million.
By comparison with other projects currently or recently undertaken by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), this is even more expensive: new elementary school in Carver for 750 students had a total project budget of $51.9 million, a whopping $15.3 million less than Amherst’s proposed school for the same number of kids. That’s about $89,600 per student in Amherst, while in Carver it would be $69,200.
In Andover, the Bancroft Elementary School for 680 students, completed in 2014, had a total cost of $49.2 million, or $72,460 per student; in Burlington, the Memorial Elementary School for 480 students cost $26.2 million, or $54,580 per student.
In fact, ours is the most expensive new elementary school project of comparable enrollment and building size in the MSBA pipeline. This project is being described by proponents as the most cost-effective way to deal with our aging school buildings. The evidence suggests that there is a lot they haven’t considered and that this plan is a lot more expensive than it needed to be.