Article 38 : Show us the costs!

Two of SASS’s members, Maria Kopicki and Laura Quilter, are sponsoring “Article 38”, an Article on the Town Warrant.  An Article on the Warrant is basically a proposal for Town Meeting to vote on.  Our proposal, Article 38, asks the Town to take a critical look at renovation costs put forward by the District and produce a detailed enough analysis that allows us to determine whether targeted renovation can be accomplished for a cost that the Town and its people can support.

We are asking for this careful analysis because the numbers made available to date are inadequate for Town Members to compare apples to oranges with respect to the District’s proposal. Looking through the District’s documentation to develop a more “apples to apples” comparison chart, however, raises more questions than it answers.

For instance, we are given a “total project cost” for the new building. However, that doesn’t include the actual “total project cost”, which includes a number of hard dollar costs that MSBA won’t reimburse for:

  • Any needed renovation of Crocker Farm to convert it from a preK/K-6 to a preK-1
  • Decommissioning costs for Fort River (if it’s sold or renovated there will be some costs; if it’s unoccupied for a time there will be other costs; if it’s demolished there will be costs)
  • “Luxury” items in the proposed space that are beyond MSBA’s standards and won’t be reimbursed, e.g., expansive MakerSpace, kiln, etc.
  • Site treatment costs for the three sites: Wildwood (to capture middle school playfields to accommodate the larger student population on a site with considerably more paving); and although it’s likely to not be extensive, are there any unanticipated costs at Crocker Farm (taking out the older kid play structures or making that space safer for a much larger population of preK/K/1st graders) or Fort River (taking out play structures and playing fields).
  • Swing space & move costs

Similarly, there are a number of questions relating to the renovation estimates.  For instance:

  • These are based only a cost-per-square-foot estimate.  Project based estimates would be more appropriate and permit Town residents to understand the needed improvements and prioritize them. For example, a simple “Level 2” analysis lists items like “HVAC, $1.2 million”; “new windows, $750,000”, etc.
  • The cost-per-square-foot estimate offered by the District is considerably more expensive than the mean and median for other MSBA-funded projects, even taking into account inflation. At one point the District’s estimate was $390 per sq. ft, compared with the MSBA median of $307 per sq. ft. After the disparity was pointed out, the next documents reduced the District’s estimate to $338 per sq. ft, without explaining why the original estimate was more than 25% more than the stage average, or why the new estimate, although much reduced, was still almost 10% more than the state average.
  • The square-foot estimate unfortunately over-estimates the costs, because it includes large spaces that may not need to be renovated, at least not extensively, such as the gym or cafeteria.
  • The square-foot estimate was based on Wildwood’s square footage and then doubled to account for Fort River.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t take into account renovations that have already been done, such as Fort River’s boiler, and HVAC work, both done a few years ago.

A full “peer review” would be completely appropriate to look, holistically, at the project from the Town perspective; this could cost $30,000 – $40,000.

Even a simple third-party review of the project’s numbers that carefully examined the points raised and not clarified, by reviewing existing documentation, could answer a lot of questions, and generate useful documents that would effectively allow the Town to understand the elementary school projects.