Among the questions residents asked at the first two public meetings this week on a proposed new Wahconah Regional High School:
Question: Why, given the snows of New England, a flat roof?
Answer: It has been one of the most common questions. Architect Carl R. Franceschi said that since the tar-and-gravel days of Wahconah's construction nearly 60 years ago, materials have significantly improved and roofing membranes used now carry guarantees of 30 years.
He referred to "low-slope" roof systems. Two parts of the school — the gym and auditorium — have roofs with greater pitches.
Plus, it isn't practical to put a pitched roof on buildings this size. To get enough elevation for a sloping roof, an attic space would have to rise up to 20 or 30 feet, Franceschi said, creating new costs, plus a need to heat dead space.
Question: If the Wahconah project qualified for a state reimbursement rate in the high-50-percent range, why is the state's effective share about 43 percent?
Answer: Not all costs are eligible for reimbursement. For instance, the state pays a maximum of $333 per square foot for construction, Franceschi said, and the cost of building a school of this quality runs from $450 to $500 a square foot.
The maximum reimbursement by the state stands at $31.3 million for the project, though the Massachusetts School Building Authority will review the district's final submission this month, he said.
Question: Where's the elevator?
Answer: Near the center of the building. It's there, though not featured in renderings shared at the public meetings.
Question: How will towns pay for the project?
Answer: Though residents in the seven towns will decide collectively whether to build a new Wahconah, officials in the towns will figure out on their own, with input from residents, how to pay their shares.
Question: Are the costs to member towns fixed over the life of a construction loan?
Answer: Costs are determined by the number of students each town sends to the district. Those are updated yearly, based on enrollment as of Oct. 1, according to Melissa Falkowski, the assistant superintendent.
Question: What if a debt-exclusion vote to pay for a new school fails to pass in Dalton?
Answer: John W. Bartels Jr., chair of Dalton's Select Board, said he anticipates use of that mechanism to allow the town to raise new tax revenue. If that option fails to win backing from voters, it would be up to the town to trim its operational budget enough to afford the cost of Wahconah borrowing.
Question: Why build if the district is losing enrollment?
Answer: Principal Aaron Robb said the new school is designed to hold 460 students in grades 9 through 12. At the time it would open in 2021, he anticipates an enrollment of 500, down from the 530 students now studying. The new school nevertheless would be able to accommodate 500 students, Robb said.
Question: Would the cost of operating a new school strain the district's budget?
Answer: Falkowski said that a new building would be less costly to run, particularly in regard to energy costs. She offered an assurance that operational costs would not threaten the number of teachers.
"We can staff the building going forward," she said.
Question: What if the projected $72.7 million construction cost is surpassed?
Answer: The figure includes about 10 percent of contingency money, ready to make up gaps.
"This is a hard ceiling on cost," said John Benzinger, project manager for Skanska, the company managing the project for the district.
Question: If costs escalate ahead of construction, for whatever reason, how is the project prepared to find savings?
Answer: Franceschi, the architect, said "value engineering" stands ready to shave costs so the overall budget is not exceeded. For instance, he said plans can allow for changes in the types of materials used.
Question: Did planners consider locating a new school near Nessacus Regional Middle School to save money or take advantage of shared facilities?
Answer: Franceschi said planners did consider, early on, whether the middle school site on Fox Road in Dalton, not far from the high school, could accommodate a high school as well. They concluded that while the schools could have possibly shared an auditorium, the site was not appropriate.
"There's not much else that could be shared," Franceschi said.
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.