|New Fuller School project estimates: $89M to $125M||December 26, 2017|
|Jim Haddadin 617-863-7144||Metrowest Daily News|
A decision will be made early next year on the future of Fuller Middle School in Framingham. [Daily News file photo]
FRAMINGHAM - School officials will decide within the next two months whether to renovate or rebuild Fuller Middle School, with the latest cost estimates for the project topping $88 million.
The School Building Committee last week voted to advance five designs into the next round of study, with a decision about its preferred choice slated for February 2018.
While the group has yet to pick a favorite, building an entirely new facility with a smaller footprint on the Fuller School's Flagg Drive campus is emerging as the most advantageous option.
In a new report submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority last week, the committee noted that constructing a new building would be less expensive and less disruptive for students, while also providing more modern classrooms designed for 21st century curriculum.
MSBA is expected to reimburse Framingham for a large share of the project, which looms as the largest capital expense on the town's horizon. The committee is considering three designs for a new school building, as well as an option featuring a new addition.
Below is a summary of the latest information contained in Framingham's Dec. 20 submission to the MSBA.
What's being considered? The firm Jonathan Levi Architects designed seven different approaches to replace or rebuild the school, ranging from renovations alone to a combination of renovations and building additions or new construction.
The School Building Committee voted unanimously on Dec. 18 to advance five of the seven options for further study and potential schematic designs.
The most expensive is the so-called "baseline" option - simply bringing the Fuller School up to code - which is expected to cost as much as $124 million. The town would not be eligible to have renovation costs reimbursed by the MSBA, meaning Framingham would be on the hook for the entire amount, according to project documents.
Another concept entails building a new two-story wing along the southeast side of the building. It would hold classrooms and administrative space. The cafeteria would also be improved. Parking would be relocated to the west side of the building, and additional parking would be created on the existing baseball field behind the nearby Farley School.
One factor weighing on the decision is the need to relocate students during any proposed renovations. School officials say it would be impossible to renovate any portion of the school while it remains occupied. Renovations would therefore require temporarily housing approximately 500 students at other locations.
This option - a combination of renovations and a new addition - is projected to cost around $114 million. Creating swing space while construction is underway would increase the cost by several million dollars.
New construction: The remaining three designs center on building an entirely new facility. They range in price from around $89 million to $95 million. New construction offers the advantage of leaving students in place at the old Fuller building while construction takes place.
One design features a two-story building, with a replacement auditorium. New parking would eventually be created on the footprint of the old building once it's demolished.
Another design features a three-story building with a central commons area, which would house the cafeteria and also take the place of the auditorium by facilitating music and drama programs.
A final option - dubbed the "butterfly" design - features two-story construction with classroom wings radiating off a commons area, which would would similarly feature a combined cafeteria and auditorium and separate gymnasium. Again, students could remain in place at the Fuller building during construction.
Why is the project necessary? Built in 1958 as a high school, the concrete Fuller building has reached the end of its useful life. Officials say the building is overcrowded due to a lack of proper classroom space, and needs upgrades to make it fully accessible. The HVAC and electrical systems are also outdated, and the facility isn't suited for modern educational programs.
"This is causing issues of imminent failures, poor interior air quality, code compliance issues, and an educational delivery system that is in poor condition," reads the town's submission to the MSBA. "Additionally, a portion of the structural floor slab, elevated above a dirt floor crawl space, has significant structural deterioration and the roof deck, constructed of poured gypsum planks, exhibits signs of deterioration due to water infiltration."
Design goals: The new building will be designed to support Fuller Middle School's concentration on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) curriculum.
The model, in development for four years, focuses on learning through projects and interdisciplinary curriculum.
The new building will house a "fabrication laboratory" and "makerspace" to help students study engineering and design, allowing them to develop and test prototypes with technology such as 3D printers.
Plans also call for the school to house at least nine classrooms dedicated to students learning English. More than half of Fuller's current students speak a language other than English at home, and the number of English learners is expected to continue to rise.
About a quarter of the student population also receives special education services through Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). School officials expect at least six classrooms will be needed to serve this population of students in the future, given the growing size of Framingham's autism program in elementary schools.
Costs: Preliminary estimates put the cost of constructing a new building at between around $89 million and $95 million, depending on the particular design. MSBA is expected to reimburse the community for a little more than 57 percent of eligible costs, though the exact amount depends on the design.
If Framingham's tentative plans are approved, MSBA's board of directors could vote as early as June 2018 to move the project into the schematic design phase. MSBA's board could then decide on Oct. 31, 2018 to approve the scope and budget for the project.
If that timeline holds firm, city officials would likely ask taxpayers to approve a debt exclusion sometime between November 2018 and January 2019 to raise the tax levy to pay for Framingham's share of the project costs.
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