North Adams School Project Estimates Give Committee Sticker Shock

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Building Committee had a bit of sticker shock on Tuesday when the range for a renovation or new school construction topped out at $90 million.
The estimates covered the scenarios from building new at Brayton or Greylock or renovating either, with the higher ends for a prekindergarten through Grade 6 school.   
The lowest range was for renovating Brayton — about $55 million to $75 million — and highest a new building Greylock from about $75 million to $90 million. 
These figures are before the Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursed eligible items at about 80 percent of the cost. The city's share was roughly estimated somewhat higher, between $25 million and $45 million, for "wiggle room."
"I will just comment that the estimated cost of construction made my heart stop for a couple of moments," said Mayor Jennifer Macksey. "So we also need to look at the scope there. 
"But again, in this industry with the cost of construction, I'm not surprised, but I feel that that is much way out of our reach. ...  So we need to hone in on those numbers just a little bit more as we proceed."
Committee member Richard Alcombright said he was floored by the figures, noting that the Colegrove Park Elementary School came in at around $30 million less than a decade ago. (The city was responsible for about $7 million.)
"We were equally shocked. It's just, the past two years, anything you knew two years ago is no longer relevant, things changed so dramatically," said Randall Luther, TSKP Studio's principal in charge of the project.
Inflation and materials delays because of the pandemic have raised construction costs globally. A chart on the  Massachusetts School Building Authority website shows bids per square foot have nearly doubled in some instances since 2009 and with a steep spike over the past few years. 
"We have two types of estimates," Jesse Saylor of TSKP said. "We have results on the amount of work and the costs associated with bringing the Brayton and Greylock schools up to code compliance and addressing repair issues.
"Then the other thing we have are the costs for the feasibility study options that we presented, which meet our goals."
It would cost $35 million to $45 million just to repair Greylock School, he said, but that's a "non-starter" because at 55,000 square feet, the school is too small. Even though Brayton is newer, it's nearly twice the size and would come in at $45 million to $55 million. The target square footage is 75,000 for a preK-2 school and 83,000 for a preK-6 school.
Saylor said "project costs" meant hard and soft costs, from construction materials to site development to furniture to permitting. It was useful, he said, to use these conceptual costs to look at the relative differences between the options. 
"For example, we can see looking at the new construction options at either Greylock or Brayton are coming out 10 to 15 percent more than the renovation or addition renovation option at those schools," he said. "Also, we're seeing that the Greylock project is coming in 5 to 10 percent more than those at Brayton. And so that, I think, is one way these are useful. There are a lot of unknowns."
Luther noted that the costs for Brayton did not include the Northern Berkshire YMCA, which is attached to the building, outside of sprinklers ("because you can't sprinkle half a building") and the gym. The gym is shared space but it is used by the school so it needs to be clarified if the MSBA would consider it reimbursable.
"It's generally the rule that gymnasiums are used by towns after school hours for all kinds of functions unrelated to the schools," he said. "Not particularly with lease agreements, but I think if we frame it in that way we can probably get a positive response."
Saylor also pointed out that the feasibility phase was requiring more analysis including hazardous materials and geotechnical exploration. He asked if they should be done at both sites or if the committee was coming to a decision on doing one. 
"I think that involves some internal discussions, and then a plan to bring it to the committee to discuss further," said Macksey. "I don't think tonight we're ready to solicit that type of input. 
"At this point, we and the administration have to do some soul searching about the next direction to seek the appropriate input from the committee and the community as to what site. By seeing those dollars, really causes some thought."
Saylor also went through some sustainability issues, such as using geothermal heat pumps or solar and which level of Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) the project should target. There was a general idea it would be gold, which is the certification for Colegrove Park. 
The committee also voted to approved the educational plan presented by Superintendent Barbara Malkas that will be submitted to the MSBA (this will be reviewed at Tuesday's School Committee meeting) and Matthew Sturz of Colliers International, the owner's project manager, gave a review of the timeline. He noted that the project has been officially accepted back into feasibility but that MSBA is providing some flexibility with time for further exploration of the design plans.  
The timeline is still targeting an MSBA Board of Directors vote on Oct. 26 but the board is aware that the committee may requestion an extension. The project initially was put forward as a Greylock project in the last administration but underwent pauses and changes when MSBA advised Brayton be included and a new administration came in. 
"The purpose of that [extension] is to enable us to interface with the MSBA to review the schematic design and accommodate any further opportunities we need to get in front of them and go through the process of local approvals once the schematic design is complete," he said.

Tags: brayton/greylock project,   MSBA,   

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NAPL: Understanding Artificial Intelligence Presentation

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — On Wednesday, April 24, at 6:00 PM, the North Adams Public Library will host a presentation titled "Understanding Artificial Intelligence." 
The event aims to explore various facets of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, catering to those fascinated, anxious, or simply curious about these technologies.
Williams College professors Mark Hopkins and Rohit Bhattacharya will lead the seminar, delving into topics such as the differences in reasoning between humans and AI, the evolving human-computer relationship as AI advances, language acquisition by computers, and potential challenges as AI becomes more prevalent.
The seminar will take place in the 3rd-floor community room of the library. No registration is required.
The North Adams Public Library is located at 74 Church Street, North Adams, MA, 01247. 
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