Cost of Proposed School Construction Project Revealed
December 2, 2016
by Barbara O’Brien
Windham School Board members have revealed the estimated cost of the proposed construction project to be put forth to voters next March; the preliminary price tag coming in at $38.9 million. Last year’s proposed construction project, which nearly passed muster on Election Day, went to voters at a cost of $38,995,000.
Since the narrow defeat last March, members of the building and grounds committee, a sub-committee of the school board, have been working diligently on revising the proposal from earlier this year. The committee has continued working with Banwell Architects on the proposed alterations and additions to Golden Brook Elementary School and Windham Middle School. On Nov. 29, members of the building and grounds committee brought forth their estimated cost.
During the school board meeting that evening, building and grounds committee Chairman Rob St. Laurent said he realizes that the proposal being recommended looks a lot like last year’s project, but that it is actually a much improved version. The three-phase project is expected to take 26 months to complete, as compared to three years for last spring’s proposal. “We have done our due diligence,” St. Laurent said. “We have a very good plan to achieve this. The proposed project is stronger than it’s ever been.”
The proposal moving forward includes two options that were initially considered as alternatives. The first option is a 500-square-foot stage and lighting at Golden Brook at a cost of $360,000; the second a grass soccer field on top of the leach bed behind Golden Brook School at a cost of $230,000. A third alternative, an expansion of the proposed 7,000-square-foot gymnasium at Golden Brook to 9,000 square feet, plus bleachers, is not included in the main project, but will be sent to voters through a separate warrant article with an estimated cost of $547,000.
“A lot of people have been working very hard to make this a reality,” St. Laurent said. “We’re being successful because we’ve surrounded ourselves with professionals,” he said. “The proposal has become more refined as we’ve gone along.” It was noted that the newest proposal is larger, but slightly less costly, despite an extra year’s inflation.
School Board Chairman Daniel Popovici-Muller acknowledged that the estimated cost is “a frightening amount of money,” but it does represent a sorely needed project. Popovici-Muller also noted that committee members are “still fine-tuning the number. It’s not written in stone, yet,” he said.
Architect Ingrid Nichols, who has been working with the Windham School District for more than a year and a half, said, “We are thrilled at where we are.” “We’ve added more space. We’ve added more programs; all at a lower cost.” Nichols emphasized that the proposed project is a full-district solution; one that will relieve the overcrowding at all Windham schools. “We’ve squeezed as much into the project as possible; at the best price possible,” Nichols said.
Superintendent Richard Langlois, who took on the top administrative position in Windham this past July, said that one of the reasons the process has gone so smoothly this year is that it has been “all inclusive,” with all levels of the staff participating in the planning. “You have the best solution for everyone in this proposal,” Langlois said. “It delivers everything needed. What we’re proposing is right for the kids.”
“It’s time to make this happen,” School Board Vice-Chairman Rob Breton added.
“It’s a very, very good deal for the town,” Popovici-Muller commented.
During the public input session of the discussion, former custodian and Windham resident Bob Davis questioned whether there is enough parking space provided in the proposal, noting that the student population at Golden Brook could more than triple if the project passes next March. Resident Cynthia Finn said she was concerned about the elimination of the stage at Windham Middle School; a platform that has not been used as a stage for several years. Langlois explained that Windham Middle School students would be sharing the new stage at Golden Brook School, which is just down the hill. Resident Rich Amari, who has been involved in school construction projects for several years, said, “We’ve never had such a vetted out project as we do today.” “This is what this school district needs to achieve 21st century learning.”
School board members voted 5 to 0 to accept the recommendations of the building and grounds committee, including the stage and lighting and soccer field, and to move forward with refining those plans. A second motion also passed, approving the formulation of a warrant article calling for an enlarged gymnasium (9,000 square feet) and bleachers, on the contingency that the proposed construction plan is approved by voters this coming spring. A 60 percent majority vote is required for approval. The gymnasium expansion warrant article was approved by a vote of 4 to 1. Voting in favor of putting forth the separate warrant article were Chairman Daniel Popovici-Muller, Vice-Chairman Rob Breton and school board members Dennis Senibaldi and Ken Eyring. Voting against the gymnasium expansion warrant article was school board member Tom Murray. Eyring said that he was “personally opposed” to putting forth the warrant article for a larger gymnasium, but wants to leave the decision up to the voters.