(Editor’s note: There will be a multi-board meeting and forum on Wednesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. in the Brooks Gym. This is the second such meeting in recent weeks about the school project; click here for coverage of the first multiboard meeting on January 30.)
To the editor:
Last April, Lincoln again applied for state funding for a school building project from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). In December, the town learned that we were not invited into the 2016 funding pipeline. After careful consideration, we, the members of the Lincoln School Committee (LSC), have voted unanimously to recommend that the town move forward independently and begin planning a Lincoln-funded school building project. This is an opinion that we have shared openly with other boards and that we introduced to the public at the January 30 multi-board meeting. It has since been endorsed by multiple town boards and committees.
The purpose of the January 30 meeting was to launch a community process that we hope will bring the town to consensus on a Lincoln School building project. The first decision will be made at the March 25th Annual Town Meeting. The LSC is bringing forth for the town’s consideration two warrant articles that represent two different pathways:
- Article 33: Using the money we already set aside in 2015, will the Town permit the School Committee to begin planning a Lincoln-funded project? OR
- Article 34: Should the Town continue to re-apply to the MSBA?
The LSC views these articles as an either/or choice representing two distinct pathways and timetables. The School Committee recommends voting “yes” on Article 33 and passing over Article 34.
As stewards of the school, we believe the time has come to act independently for the following reasons:
- The Lincoln School’s building systems are at increasing risk of failure, and the fiscally responsible approach is to address the deficiencies with a thoughtfully planned single project.
- We are committed to creating a learning environment that supports the town’s educational vision.
- There has been considerable community engagement over the past five years, and a growing consensus that a school project is one of the town’s top priorities.
Certain systems in the school, such as the roof and boilers, are on borrowed time. With immediate action, the earliest completion date for a renovation project is late 2021. Waiting to act lengthens the timeline and increases the risk of a costly infrastructure failure that would force us to reactively spend millions of dollars.
Since 2002 when the Capital Planning Committee first recommended a comprehensive approach to addressing the school’s capital needs, the town has conducted five studies of the facility. Each study has confirmed the idea that it is fiscally prudent to thoughtfully plan a project that holistically addresses the school’s infrastructure needs.
For the past several years, because we sought to maximize the impact of the town’s investment, the LSC asked for town support to seek MSBA funding. Yet, since we applied last April, we have learned more about the current competitiveness of the MSBA process. The MSBA uses weighted criteria to evaluate proposals, including:
- Is the building structurally sound?
- Is there severe overcrowding?
- Is there a threatened loss of accreditation?
- Does the district foresee future overcrowding?
- Are the major systems obsolete?
- Will there be short-term enrollment growth?
- Are the educational spaces outdated?
The Lincoln School, like many around the Commonwealth, falls firmly into categories #5 and #7. Many districts around us, however, are also facing severe overcrowding, and there are some facilities around the Commonwealth that are considered unusable. The MSBA is using its limited resources to fund projects around the state that fall squarely within categories #1 and/or #2. We believe that with the current focus on these top two criteria, we are unlikely to receive state support in the foreseeable future, and that given the condition of the building, the responsible financial choice is to move ahead on our own.
Supporting high-quality public education is one of Lincoln’s core values. This goes beyond academic rigor, encompassing a vision of education that is innovative, engaging and inspiring. To realize that vision, we know we need highly effective educators in an environment that supports teaching and learning. Lincoln consistently supports the educational program, and now it is time to invest in our infrastructure. Our goal is a school facility that fosters collaboration and communication, is flexible and sustainable enough to meet educational needs for decades to come, and is safe and accessible to, and supportive of, all our learners.
Finally, for the past five years the LSC has worked with the citizens of Lincoln to cultivate a shared vision of education, and an understanding of the Lincoln School building’s deficiencies. Among the several hundred people who have engaged in this process, the public has indicated consensus on several points:
- Maximizing educational benefits is the community’s first priority when evaluating a potential project.
- A minimum investment of $30 million (2014 estimate) is required to achieve a responsible repair project that addresses basic infrastructure and meets current safety, structural and accessibility codes.
- In order to achieve an education-focused transformation of the building, a significantly greater investment will be required. According to several studies, the potential cost is $40-$65 million.
- This cost range is based on the 2014 Dore & Whittier estimates commissioned by the School Building Advisory Committee II (SBAC II); the total cost of the project proposed in 2012 was $50 million.
- When asked at the 2014 State of the Town Meeting, those present demonstrated strong support for a transformative project, even if we need to pay for it on our own.
- Many residents are also interested in building a community center on the Lincoln School campus and favor a parallel planning process.
- A school project will be a major community investment. It is important to build on the community’s demonstrated engagement in planning these projects.
Approving Article 33 is the first of three votes the town would take to plan and achieve a revitalization of the Lincoln School. Community input has been and will continue to be crucial in planning for the choices the Town will make at each of these stages. The following “feasibility study” process is based on a standard project management model:
- After a “yes” vote on Article 33, the School Committee appoints a School Building Committee to choose an architect, hire an owner’s project manager, and develop a series of project concepts and budget estimates from which the town will choose.
- The town votes to choose a project concept and estimated budget range. This determines key components of the project such as the number and types of spaces needed, and the footprint of the building.
— Preliminary design phase: After the town chooses a concept, the architect and Building Committee will do preliminary site planning and choose major systems and materials such as heating/ventilation, roofing, exterior materials, windows, insulation, lighting, and plumbing.
— Two independent cost estimates are commissioned and reconciled.
- The town votes to bond the project, beginning the final phase:
— Final design development: The Building Committee and architect choose interior finishes, finalize site plans, and create construction drawings.
—The construction contract is put out to bid, is awarded, and the project begins.
Article 34 asks whether the town should re-apply for funding from the MSBA. The LSC has advocated for this pathway over the past couple of years, but now believes that our near-term acceptance into the funding pipeline is highly unlikely given both the level of need around the state, and the MSBA’s available resources. As outlined above, large infrastructure items such as the roof and the heating system are at an increased risk of failure, and even the most ambitious project schedule takes four years. The LSC recommends voting “yes” on Article 33 and passing over Article 34.
Why not vote “yes” on both articles?
- One advantage of funding a project on our own is that we are not constrained by MSBA limitations on building and site use, thus facilitating parallel planning with a community center.
- Potential waste of taxpayer money: If we spend money to develop a project on our own and then receive an invite from the MSBA, we would have to put that work aside and begin a new, state-approved process. This would mean appropriating more money, hiring a state-approved architect and owner’s project manager, and starting the work again. This also delays planning for a community center project.
- Respect for the town’s human capital. During the most recent study of the Lincoln School, SBAC II meetings consumed over 110 hours of our educators’ and fellow citizens’ time. The LSC wants to ensure that we are using our human resources judiciously and productively.
Questions? Want more information? Please join us at the multi-board meeting and forum on March 8 at 7 p.m. in the Brooks Gym.
Jennifer Glass, chair (on behalf of the Lincoln School Committee)
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