PITTSFIELD -- Estimates provided this week for a new Taconic High School project brought home the reality of the $125 million commitment city officials are considering.
The cost figures, fully discussed for the first time at a School Building Needs Commission meeting Monday, appeared to surprise some commissioners, who nevertheless voted 16-1 in favor of all-new construction to replace the 45-year-old school.
The reason for the positive vote, according to Commission Co-Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso, was that the upfront cost of new construction comes in equal to or only moderately higher than doing nothing with the school.
Amuso said she was told that might happen by the city's project design firm, Drumney Rosane Anderson Inc. of Waltham, and by people she knows around the state where similar projects have been completed.
"They said it is common and we shouldn't be surprised," Amuso said.
She acknowledged that the discussion Monday, during a presentation on project options from DRA Inc. President Carl Franceschi, focused for the first time on all the project cost factors and on the exact level of state aid.
Costs included the overall price tag for the project beyond the direct construction costs, including fees, contingencies, furniture and expenses related to disruption of the operation of the school during construction.
For instance, the total project cost for a new Taconic High jumps from about $95 million for the construction alone to $125.
Similar, proportionate increases for the total project were noted by the design firm for the three other building options the commission has considered. DRA Inc. recommended the new construction option.
In addition, Franceschi gave more specific information for the first time on the likely level of state aid for the entire project, some of which would not qualify for a full 80 percent reimbursement, the highest available to school districts. He said that typically such a project would receive in the neighborhood of 65 to 70 percent of the total cost from the state, although the final figure for Pittsfield won't be known until a project schematic design is completed and firm cost figures developed -- likely by late December.
The state caps reimbursement levels on site work costs and other aspects of school projects, Franceschi said, and uses a per-square-foot dollar figure for construction that is lower than prevailing market rates. Those factors, he said, help drive down the total percentage of a project cost the state actually covers.
The building needs commission is "a diverse group," Amuso said, but it voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new school options, apparently convinced new construction provided the best value and operational efficiency over time and the flexibility to meet the educational goals of the future.
"We have taken a long time to get where we are," she added, referring to the several years of evaluating options and planning to replace Taconic High. "We are not taking this lightly."
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, a non-voting member of the commission, echoed those sentiments. Merely renovating the current structure was not a cost-effective option, he said.
"The disruption of construction can be costly," he said, "and at the end of the day, you have a fairly old structure that is not up to the standards of today."
Comparing the overall cost to the city after state aid levels are figured in, "I think there was very little differential," the mayor said.
In addition, he sees a new Taconic High with an enhanced vocational-technical education program as "a real economic development driver for this area." The school could provide cutting-edge technology and partner with Berkshire Community College and local manufacturing firms to benefit the work force and the local economy, he said.
Commissioner and School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said she has focused primarily on the educational component, and in that aspect a new school is superior to renovations alone or a combination of renovation, partial demolition and new construction.
The design of educational spaces in the new building plan provides more flexibility to meet 21st century educational needs, she said, and the construction itself would take place on a different section of the Valentine Road campus and be less disruptive during the work. It also would be finished in two years, compared to three or four for the other options.
Comparing costs, Yon said the salient figures to her were that with a 70 percent state reimbursement, the city would pay roughly $37.6 million of $125.5 million.
With renovations alone to keep up with roof, heating system, and other upgrades required over the next few years, the cost was estimated by DRA Inc. at $36.2 million. However, the state would not provide any reimbursement for that type of project.
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Taconic High project options and costs
1. All-new construction - $125.5 million
2. New construction/renovation - $124.5 million
3. Renovations/with addition - $98.2 million
4. Renovations alone - $36.2 million *
* No state reimbursement available. Projects 1-3 would receive up to 80 percent reimbursement.