Arlington Redevelopment Board - May 20th, 2019

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Presentation By Arlington High School Building Committee. Five members of the AHSBC gave the board a presentation on the plans to rebuild Arlington High School. They were Sandy Pooler, Kent Wirth (?), John Cole, and Jeff Thielman.

Jeff Thielman opens the presentation. Arlington High School is deteriorating and overcrowded. The district is seeing rising school enrollments. There are 540 students in this year's kindergarten class, and 1400 in Arlington High. When this process started, AHS had a student population of 1300. The high school has been on warning, due to the deteriorating condition of the facility.

The building was originally constructed in 1914, and added on to over the decades. The town tried to rebuild the high school in the 1970's, but that effort was defeated by voters. Ultimately, the town had to build additions and renovate, at a greater cost. The building does not work as a modern high school.

The high school fulfills several roles. It's a high school, home to a pre-school, the LABB collaborative, and a set of town offices. The building has 55 exterior doors, which makes it very difficult to secure the facility.

This project started in 2014. The MSBA has approved our plans, and they'll provide $86M in funding. If the debt exclusion is voted down in June, we'll be unlikely to get that money.

The building site is 22 acres (MSBA prefers 25), and has a 24' grade change from one end to the other. Mill Brook runs through the site.

The renovation will see the Comptroller and IT departments moving to a different site. Administrative support staff will be housed in the new building.

Mr. Thielman believes that a brand new school is the best option for long-term stability, and for minimizing disruption during the construction process. The building is entirely based around our educational programming.

John Cole summarizes architectural elements of the new building. There will be a central spine that runs from the front (Mass Ave Side) of the building to the back. We will go from 55 exterior doors to two. The construction will be phased in a way to minimize student disruption. We'll build the first two wings in front of the existing school; they'll be set back 80' from Mass Ave. The winged design will allow more natural light into the building.

The committee has tried to incorporate architectural elements of the school into the new building. The entrance of the performing arts wing will be a replica of the Fusco facade. We also plan to etch an image of the column house facade onto a large glass wall inside the building. The committee has identified several historic artifacts from the old building, and are planning to incorporate them into the new one.

Sandy Pooler says the goal is to construct a net-zero building. It will be all electric, in order to take advantage of cleaner sources of energy that become available.

Eugene Benson asks what level of LEED certification the committee is hoping to achieve.

Mr. Pooler says they're hoping for silver, and will have a good chance of achieving gold status. He doesn't think they'll be able to attain a platinum rating. The committee has engaged the utility companies to perform an energy consumption analysis. We estimate that the new building will use 1/3 as much energy as the existing school.

The high school will be one of the most significant capital projects the town has ever done. There will be a debt exclusion vote on June 11th. The total cost of the project is $290M, and we'll be getting $86M in funding from the state.

We've compared this project with similar green schools in the area, and believe it's in the typical cost-per-pupil range. Per-pupil cost estimates don't include the pre-school or LABB collaborative students.

Mr. Benson asks about the change in the tax rate.

Mr. Pooler says the tax rate will increase by a little over $1/mil. The tax increase will be phased in over 4--5 years, as money is borrowed.

Jeff Thielman outlines the town's alternatives, in the event that the debt exclusion is voted down. The school committee would try to get back into the MSBA program, but this would involve starting all over from scratch. We'd have to start the design process from the beginning of phase 1, and we'd still need a debt exclusion. This would likely cost more, and we wouldn't get as good a building.

David Watson asks if the Dover amendment has any impact on the plans for the high school.

No, there's nothing Dover amendment-related that would bring the school committee in front of the ARB.

Mr. Watson asks how green space on the site will change.

Mr. Thielman says we'll have more green space for educational uses. We'll have three athletics fields, meaning that three sports teams can practice at the same time.

Mr. Wirth notes that the new school will be connected to the minuteman bikeway, and more walkable than the current site.

We'll be able to host baseball games at the new high school, rather than having to use the field at Spy Pond.

Kin Lau is supportive of the project. He likes how the programming is separated, and thinks the new school could also function as a civic center. He asks who's overseeing the construction.

Mr. Thielman says the board has put out an RFP, and six major construction firms have responded. Skanska will be the project manager.

Mr. Benson asks how the faculty has reacted to the new high school.

Mr. Wirth says that faculty reaction has been very positive. The current high school building feels like it's crumbling around us. There's no climate control; some rooms are really hot and others are freezing. Navigability is terrible, especially for new students. Kids can't get from one end of the building to the other in time to change classes. There are always students that arrive late; it's disruptive, but there's nothing we can do about it. The new building will have much more direct routes. People are very excited to have something new.

ARB Property Portfolio Updates. Jenny Raitt informs the board that there are two items requiring their attention. The first involves leases for 23 Maple street and the STEP program. The second is a request from the Department of Health and Human Services, to rename the Multipurpose Arlington Senior Center to the Arlington Community Center.

For 23 Maple street, the planning department recommends allowing the tenant to stay for the remainder of their lease, but not to extend the lease.

Andrew Bunnell supports not extending. He wants to ensure that the town is able to accommodate its own space needs.

Mr. Benson asks what the alternatives are.

Ms. Raitt says that the options are a lease extension, or having the space serve town needs.

Mr. Benson asks how big the space is.

Ms. Raitt estimate 18,000 square feet (gross floor area).

The board votes in favor of not extending the lease, 4--0.

The STEP program is located next to the Central School Building. They're likely to move out by the end of the summer. This may pose some logistical challenges with the central school renovation project. There will be some overlap between the start of construction and the end of STEP's lease.

With respect to the Central School, Health and Human services wants to move away from the term "Senior Center"; they'd like to call it a "Community Center". The building itself will still be called the "Central School"; the name change applies only to a use within the building.

Mr. Benson asks if the Council on Aging is okay with the name change.

Ms. Raitt says they are.

Board votes in favor of the name change, 4--0.

Debrief: Annual & Special Town meeting. The board has had a vacancy for the last few weeks, and the position was recently filled. The new ARB member will being serving with the board in June. A more substantive "next steps" discussion will take place after the new member joins the board.

Jenny Raitt provides a list of ARB-initiated articles that were passed by town meeting, along with other articles relevant to the ARB's work. These are

  • Article 14: Parking Reduction
  • Article 17: Sign Regulations
  • Article 18: Floodplain District
  • Article 19: Inland Wetland District
  • Article 20: Review of Religious and Educational Uses
  • Article 21: Bicycle Parking
  • Article 22: Correcting Citation Errors
  • Article 24: Definition of Story, Half
  • Article 33: Notice of Demolition
  • Article 35: Short-term rental regulations
  • Article 51: Endorsement of CDGB Application
  • Article 58: Capital Budget
  • Article 60: Transportation Infrastructure Fund
  • Article 68: Community Preservation Fund (funds the first phase of Whittemore part revitalization)
  • STM Article 3: Future Zoning Bylaw Amendments (to fund work relating to updating the town's Industrial District Zoning)
  • STM Article 5: Residential Design Guidelines

Article 15 (Accessory Dwelling Units) failed by nine votes; Article 16 (Affordable Housing Requirements) and related articles were withdrawn.

The board plans to revisit mixed-use and multifamily zoning changes, once the new member is seated.

Mr. Watson asks if the beer garden will use bike racks that are compliant with the new bicycle parking requirements.

The consensus is that they'll have to.

Mr. Benson notes that the ARB discussed workforce housing in the period leading up to warrant article hearings. He'd like the board to come up with a list of things to work on.

Ms. Raitt suggests having a goal setting meeting. This could tie in to work that's currently going on in the Planning department, and cover areas such as municipal vulnerability planning, and stormwater management review processes.

Mr. Watson asks if the board can conduct a community process, as part of their goal setting initiative. He thinks it would be helpful to get citizen input, regarding what's important to them. He'd like to take this input into consideration during the ARB's work over the coming year.

There's no further comments from the board.

Mr. Bunnell opens the meeting to public comment. There are no comments from the public.

Meeting adjourned.