Orange building panel mulls cutting costs for proposed school

  • Here is a schematic of the proposed elementary school in Orange. The overall plan is to build a three-story addition onto Fisher Hill Elementary School. COURTESY IMAGE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/3/2020 10:49:00 PM
Modified: 1/3/2020 10:48:35 PM

ORANGE — The people making decisions about Orange’s elementary school design were clear Thursday. The planned school should satisfy the educational needs of students for the next 50 years — but construction costs should be cut wherever possible.

“We have to be able to sell this to the town,” said School Building Committee Chair Bruce Scherer.

Orange is in the schematic design phase of replacing the Dexter Park Innovation School (Orange’s school for grades three through six).

The overall plan is to build a three-story addition onto Fisher Hill Elementary School (for preschool through second grade), and renovate the existing portions of the Fisher Hill building. Dexter Park would be demolished, and all of Orange’s elementary school students would go to school in the expanded building.

Much of Thursday’s School Building Committee meeting was spent discussing potential cost-saving measures for the project — whether certain staircases should be concrete or rubber-coated; whether hardware, flooring or piping in areas may be retained.

The understanding was that Orange residents, who just rejected a proposed tax override last summer, won’t approve a project that is unnecessarily expensive.

“I think we could wind up with a really wonderful building that people reject because they say, ‘You just didn’t do enough (to cut costs),’” Scherer said.

Scherer, project architect Gene Raymond with Raymond Design Associates and Martin Goulet with Hill International Inc., the company managing the project on behalf of the town, have all stressed the estimated cost of the project will fluctuate as specific decisions are made regarding design.

When the state approved moving the project into the design phase last month, the estimated cost was $66,796,842 — down from the roughly $68.4 million estimate provided in October.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority will reimburse the town for up to 80 percent of “eligible costs,” which do not include features deemed unnecessary, like a pitched roof. However, the project will not become a reality unless Orange residents vote to allow the town to borrow and spend its portion of the project cost.

Residents would have to approve the project at the Annual Town Meeting in June, then approve spending as a ballot question at a subsequent special election.

Trimming the fat

The planned school features an additional access road; new playing fields; a patio for outdoor learning; a family resource center; special education classrooms dispersed throughout the building; and a central “innovation hub” with a library, media center, science and art rooms in one connected location.

A “reduced” access road from that previously envisioned can save an estimated $300,000; eliminating a baseball field and related drainage can save an estimated $70,000; and reducing planting and landscaping can save $100,000.

Other options discussed include changing the material of sidewalks from concrete to asphalt; reducing play areas and structures; and keeping portions of the existing building like lockers, hardware and piping.

Eliminating the idea of a new facade for the existing face of the building can also save money. Raymond said architects are examining different options that include adding new windows and cleaning the existing face, while also having it aesthetically fit with the three-story addition.

Even smaller decisions, like whether or not to have “mixed flooring” that combines new and old flooring could save around $15,000.

“I get that there are a lot of little details, but we have to look at everything,” Scherer said.

The School Building Committee’s work continues at the next meeting on Thursday, Jan. 16, at 6:15 p.m. at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School.

Reach David McLellan at or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.


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