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Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Modular Classroom Study Funding Approved

This evening, the Appropriations Committee of the Melrose Board of Aldermen took up an order to “Bond in the amount of $400,000 for Design and Management Services for Modular Classrooms at the Winthrop and Hoover Schools and Renovations to the Horace Mann School.” Notes as follows (and edits and errors all mine):

Mayor Dolan: This was a lengthy and inclusive process. There is an immediate need for more classrooms. City and school project collaboration has already resulted in more classrooms, etc. but we still need more. There was a demographic study last year verifying this. A well-attended community meeting was held and the community spoke clearly regarding their interests. The plan has been reviewed and approved by the Permanent School Building Committee (PSBC). The School Committee has done a full review and unanimously recommended this plan. We have re-confirmed approval of the educational model as it stands (grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12). This request is for money for the architectural team to proceed with drawing up the plans. This PSBC has worked together for a long time and has partnered with school staff. It’s the best proposal for education, and provides additional improvements equity and ADA compliance.

Architect Charlie Hay of Tappe Associates: Hoover, Winthrop, and Horace Mann have been identified as sites for modulars. Hoover rear, at the site of the Community Garden, is the ideal location for the classrooms. With modular construction, classrooms could be provided in time for installation by next fall. This plan allows for three classrooms to be added, with fully accessible classrooms including bathrooms, etc. Would need to relocate garden, which would be sited along the fence line and would provide improved accessibility compared with its current location. At Winthrop, the decision was made to employ two additional classrooms at the existing green space since the only spot that’s level with the first floor. That means some displacement of green space but also calls for some asphalt space to be changed to green space for students. Classrooms would make for a four-K strand at the front. As the student cohort advances up the grade ladder, there may be some changes to the grades housed in those classrooms. At Horace Mann, after much discussion, it became evident that the site doesn’t have the capacity to employ an addition because of the parking and recreation space configurations. There are significant accessibility issues at HM (there are stairs at each viable entry). The best approach is not to increase capacity, but it was determined that if the interior were reconfigured, there could be permanent library and art/music space which would allow for improved equity around those spaces. A new entrance would be created that would be safer than the current entrance.

Mayor Dolan: It’s important to note that we have to do something. There are no rooms that we can use. The idea of moving the 8th grade to the high school, displacing administration, and other changes, rivals the cost and educational shake-up of this model, and was clearly not the wish of the community.

Ald. Zwirko: This takes what we have and improves it. The plan is well thought out. Approves of plan as proposed.

President Conn: Any financial analysis re: the proposals? Ran rough estimates of the nine proposals evaluated and they are available. It was almost as expensive to reclaim office space, etc. as it was for modulars. 8th grade academy model was $1.5M for accommodation but that didn’t include a new home for administration (maybe $2M). Cost is about $1.7M for renovations + lost revenue + new administrative staff (and other operational expenses). What was the process for selecting architect? There was a publicized RFP and then proposals were collected. Two firms submitted bids and Tappe was the most qualified firm. What do we anticipate the cost of the project to be? If today, $4.4M is a good figure. The issue that’s different from other projects is the modular market because there is a run on modulars around the country. We can’t predict that so that’s the concern financially and time-wise. The intention is to get bids and come back to the Board for the financial balance of the project. Are they viable for the long term? This is an actual building that’s attached to the school – a true structure. Modular companies would say this is a 20-year building (compared with a 50-year building that’s traditional). Modulars are very simple – flat roof with simple siding, dry walls, acoustical ceiling tiles, good windows, etc. and will feel to a student like a conventional classroom. The only real difference is that the outside will be less handsome than a new brick building. There will be community meetings, etc. to talk to parents and community members about the project. What % of project would  the renovation of HM would be? A little over a third. It would be treated as a separate project from the modulars. What are terms of the bond, etc.? 20- year note. 5% interest. 30-year model for debt for general fund. 2/3 of city’s debt service will be paid off in ten years. We won’t exceed 4% of limit any year so we have capacity for future projects in future years. What is the timeline? Want project out to bid by end of year or early January. Modulars fabricated in factory, while in spring there will be site work. At HM, the time available is a challenge because the hope is to finish it in the summer months. Whether all construction can be completed in ten weeks is unknown and would be a challenge.

Ald. Lemmerman: I'm a member of the PSBC and heard a lot of public input. In other communities people say they fight to be in the modulars because they’re so beautiful. Elaborate on how planning was not for too much, but allowing flexibility for the future. Came to the conclusion that being conservative was the best approach: building a little less than originally planned. In demographic studies, MSBA underpredicts and NESDEC overpredicts, so they went with the conservative side. In 2021-22, prediction is for 88 classrooms but during the timeframe of the study, we never fall below 84 classrooms. With this plan, there may be a couple years where there is art-on-a-cart in a couple schools but that shouldn’t last. Our problem is equity, not just capacity. Libraries are different in the elementary schools as are art rooms, etc. Rooms have been divided in some schools to meet educational needs. (When many of our buildings were built, the programs we’re now required to offer did not exist. With special education, intervention, ESL, and the student-centered model, we need new configurations.) While we can’t replicate Lincoln and Roosevelt, we want students to have the best possible spaces at the other schools. Talk about the impact on the school of change in the K corner of HM. There are multiple impacts: 1. Moving library to classroom, putting it into a central site, close to where people come in. 2. Address some of the ADA regulations with respect to accessibility. (Except for the all-purpose room, all entrances have stairs that can’t be open to the public because of voting, lunch, etc.) 3. Security: all glass, increased camera visuals at Hoover now, whereas at HM someone can be well into building before there are necessarily eyes on that person; 4. In the past, library was a classroom that is equal or bigger than some other classrooms in the building so now that it’s a K room, it will be consistent with other rooms.

Ald. Boisselle: What’s the difference between modular units and modular construction? Proposal is purpose-built units specifically for a foundation constructed on a site that is connected to a main building. 90% complete when they arrive and they are in two pieces per classroom, each piece being narrow enough to travel on a roadway for delivery. After 15 years there could be higher serviceability, does that burden DPW? There will be traditional square footage to current rooms. Many will connect and also connect to current services. Custodial service may increase slightly resulting in higher costs but there are no plans to hire additional staff. Does city have to go before city Planning Board for this project? No. Is there a phase-out plan after 20 years? They may last more than 20 years. There is now no phase-out plan in 20 years. This community must start having a preliminary conversation about a bigger Winthrop School. Winthrop is coming to the end of its useful life – it’s not there yet but it’s coming. Winthrop has a community garden. This project doesn’t impact that.

Ald. Forbes: Often, modular building is better than other kinds of external construction. Modulars at Hoover – are they individual or separate? Six sections resulting in three classrooms. Hoover & Winthrop there will be some brick and mortar construction? Yes, but the modular contractor will be responsible for that (flashing, etc.). Doesn’t have concern about the project and thinks it will be good investment for the community.

Ald. Medeiros: Are there any grant opportunities? No, not a Mass. School Building Authority project since it’s not a major building project. Not aware of any disability grant programs. Expectations around population growth: still need six-eight classrooms? By reconfiguring how we use space, that’s how they’ve come to the recommendation. Have already taken two classrooms at Lincoln and Roosevelt and others at other schools. At Hoover, the room that was built out two years ago might need to be configured back depending on enrollments; flexibility to manage capacity is important. Number of classrooms today? 82. For many years, had a 12-strand grade, then creeping to 13-strand grade, now a 15-strand K (this and last year). In today’s dollars, what would it cost to remove the modular (asking to have for next meeting)? If we were to bond for full project, what would it cost? Using $4M for round number (with warning that the purpose of the $400K request is to complete fact-finding), only one year does it touch 4% of bond limit. Will the modulars have warranties? They’ll likely last longer than 20 years. Usually get a year and sometimes five for warranties. Will these meet the green building code? They have to meet the stretch limit. Will staff parking at Hoover be negatively affected? No, and green space will actually be improved.

Ald. Infurna: It’s the best of the best plans. Did have concerns about ADA compliance but they were addressed tonight. Please look into ADA grants. If needed another modular classroom, could it be added later? Yes, there is room. With flat roofs, are there snow concerns? They are built to withstand snow like any other construction.

Ald. McAteer-Margolis: Bonding – would we roll this bond and the future bond together? Yes. Additional $4.4M would keep us below capacity? Yes. Class size –will this project help in that area? Depends on enrollments. That’s why we have intra-district school choice rather than neighborhood schools. Pleased with ADA compliance. Will the systems be self-contained but tied into the building? Plumbing and electrical will probably tie back to school building services now in place. Until systems are completely explored, they won’t know all details about what services will be required.

Recommended for passage to the full Board of Aldermen.