Orange school building construction estimated cost expected to drop under $50M

  • Fisher Hill School in Orange. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Here is what the new Fisher Hill Elementary School would look like with a three-story addition built onto its northern side. Contributed image

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2020 10:59:06 PM

ORANGE — The proposal to construct one elementary school for all of Orange’s students is looking consistently cheaper.

The construction cost of the project was estimated at nearly $55 million in the fall, but architects say the next estimate will likely be under $50 million.

There are other costs associated with the project in addition to the construction cost, including a construction contingency and owner’s contingency, which are 5 percent and 3 percent of the construction cost, respectively, as well as miscellaneous costs for items like furniture and utility company fees. The total estimated cost and estimated construction cost are expected to continually decrease until June.

Orange has been working toward designing a replacement for the Dexter Park Innovation School (for grades three through six) over the last year. The plan is to build a three-story addition onto the adjacent Fisher Hill Elementary School (for preschool through second grade), renovate the existing Fisher Hill building, demolish Dexter Park and educate all students in the same, expanded building.

But members of the School Building Committee know they will not be able to sell the project to the public — especially in a town with recent financial struggles — unless the price is right.

The state has approved the project’s status in the schematic design phase, and is going to pay for 80 percent of “eligible” costs. Likely, this means the state will pay for closer to 70 percent of the project, because the state will not pay for things it deems unnecessary, like a new access drive to improve traffic circulation. The town will have to borrow money to pay its portion of the project.

Ultimately, Orange voters have the power to approve the project at Annual Town Meeting in June. After that, another vote must take place — a ballot question in a subsequent special election to approve the town’s share of funding.

Cost update

Architects from Raymond Design Associates have been working closely with the School Building Committee and Hill International Inc., the company managing the project on behalf of the town, to lower the projected cost.

The largest portion of the projected cost is the construction cost, which was estimated at just shy of $55 million in November — before the Massachusetts School Building Authority approved the project to go forward into the schematic design phase.

Currently, construction is estimated at $53 million, after items like a baseball field were eliminated, and other cost-saving measures like retaining some of Fisher Hill’s old flooring or hardware, altering the new access road, reducing planting and landscaping, and using cheaper materials for sidewalks were taken.

The architects from Raymond Design Associates said they were due to give their current design to estimators on Friday, Jan. 17. That estimate is expected to be ready for the next School Building Committee meeting on Feb. 6, and architects expect the estimated cost to drop more, to around $49 million.

Prepping for a vote

School Building Committee Chair Bruce Scherer cautioned that the design phase is only about 25 percent done, and that many specific details have yet to be worked out.

At the Feb. 6 meeting, the School Building Committee will vote to submit the schematic design to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. At the authority’s April board of directors meeting, the state will vote on whether to approve the schematic design.

Martin Goulet of Hill International said the price will continue to come down, likely all the way up to Annual Town Meeting in June, which he said will make the project look better to voters.

“Between now and June, the building committee needs to sell the project and educate the community on the work we’ve done and the project we’ve asked them to support,” Goulet said.

A “No” vote, Goulet warned, would mean a potential replacement for Dexter Park — which is overcrowded since the closing of Butterfield School in 2015 — could be pushed back years. It could take up to a decade to get back into the state’s program, construction will be more expensive and the money spent on the engineering of the project would be lost, Raymond Design Associates architect Gene Raymond has said.

Background

The need to replace or repair the 1950s-built Dexter Park has been apparent since at least 2006, when the Massachusetts School Building Authority designated it one of nine Category 4 school buildings in the state, due to problems with the school’s boiler and heating system, a leaking roof and opaque windows, as well as overcrowding.

The proposed addition and renovation has been designed working with school administrators and their “education plan.” Putting students in one building has been viewed favorably by educators like Superintendent Tari Thomas and Principal Christopher Dodge as a way to conserve resources.

Also, the idea of a central “innovation hub” — with a library, media center, arts and science rooms and a patio for outdoor learning — has been touted for its versatility and visibility within the school. A strict security layout for those entering the building and another access drive to allow smoother traffic and access for fire trucks have also been planned in the design.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

This article has been corrected to show that the $53 million estimate is the estimated construction cost, not the full cost of the project. There are other costs associated with the project in addition to the construction cost, including a construction contingency and owner’s contingency, which are 5 percent and 3 percent of the construction cost, respectively. Both the estimated full cost and the estimated construction cost are expected to continue to decrease.


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