New school for Sutton?
Committee, residents weigh building options at public forum
BY JOSH FARNSWORTH
As the first flakes of the season fell Thursday night outside Sutton Middle School, a crowd of citizens inside discussed where exactly "inside" might be for students and teachers in the coming years.
The Sutton School Building Committee and Town Project Manager Jon Winikur presented four designs for renovating the middle and high school, ranging from renovating the current facility to constructing a brand new building.
Project estimates show that fixing up the building would cost town taxpayers approximately $35 million, including $14.6 million for the core building that connects the middle school with the high school.
Principal architect of the project Alan Ross of Flansburgh Associates said all designs were made with future expansion, functionality and the integrity of the town in mind.
"This is Sutton, not Boston," he said. "It is a classic New England town and the character has to reflect that. In addition, anything done aesthetically must serve a functional need to preserve cost."
"We need to be economically conscious throughout all project phases," said school building committee chair Wendy Mead. "We need to preserve the educational setting as it is now."
Project estimates ranged $62- $65.7 million. With funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the cost to local taxpayers would fall between $33-$36 million. That could be reduced even further with green initiatives as part of the final design.
Estimates show that new building would cost taxpayers just over $36 million, prompting many to say the benefits of starting fresh may be the best option. Winikur said building new seems to be the favorite option right now.
"The people we talked to said they like option D (new building) the best," he said. "Based on costs, it just makes more sense in this case."
"If we do nothing more than clean up the problems, it is going to cost $35 million," said school building committee member Ross Weaver. "It sounds like a no-brainer to me."
The initial blueprint for a new school shows a building running perpendicular to the elementary school, cutting through the current soccer fields, and up to Boston Road.
Ross said the small discrepancy between project price tags has to do with the quicker timetable for finishing a new building. "There are efficiencies [in] renovating, but inefficiencies in longer renovations," said Ross. Time estimate for a new building is 35 months, while the next shortest alternative project adds at least six months to that. A new facility would be outside the well protection zone that the current school (which would be demolished) sits on, creating an area for new playing fields. In addition to cost, Ross said the "cons" of a new building would be having to relocate the fields and resulting disturbance to athletic events during construction. Ross and Winikur said Option C (building an addition and relocating the middle school) and Option D (new building) are the most feasible
options. Option A (massive renovation of the preexisting building) and Option B (adding a floor above the current core building) remain in play, but garnered little support from the architects and school building committee.
Town Administrator Jim Smith estimated that over a 20-year construction loan pay-back period, the cost per taxpayer would start at $700 for option C and $900 for Option D in year one, with costs diminishing as years go on. The selected design will be modified with input from the community and submitted to the MSBA in January. If approved, voters would be asked to approve the project at the annual May town meeting. "This may be our one and only bite at the apple," said Mead of the MSBA funding opportunity.
Winikur gave a detailed presentation of the various flaws with the current middle and high school. Major issues include an inadequate electric distribution system, undrinkable water, windows failing at the high school, and strained and torn carpeting all over the building. The "facilities condition assessment" also noted no sprinkler system, aged high school lockers, unit ventilators throughout the building that do not function properly, and furnishings in many rooms in dire need of replacement. "It is in pretty rough shape," said Winikur. "You have some worn out spaces here." In the demographic impact analysis section of his report, Winikur identified multiple areas of infrastructure that are considered obsolete, including the heating, plumbing and electrical systems. He said the current
setup also makes for lack of adequate space for science labs, life skills and world language classrooms, and a media center. "You need to provide these fundamental spaces," he said. Winikur and Mead said they anticipate holding more public forums to get as much input as possible for the project. Although planning and work up to this point has been about four months, Winikur believes the ball is just now rolling. "We are early on in this process," he said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."