Cost will be steep to fix or replace aging high school

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Rachel Lebeaux
Globe Correspondent / March 16, 2008

The cost of fixing up Franklin's flagging high school could reach $100 million, for renovation and an addition, or $130 million, for a new building, but the community can't afford either option without ample state assistance, the town's School Committee chairman believes.

"I can't say I was surprised by the price tags, but that doesn't lessen the sticker shock," Jeffrey Roy said. "Whatever we do, it has to be something the community can afford . . . and we can't afford any of the proposals on the table."

Yet something must be done soon to address the condition of the 37-year-old facility, which was placed on "warning" status by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges last month after officials learned that state aid for the project is not imminent.

Franklin must immediately begin making progress toward improving the building to avoid having the high school placed on probationary status by the accreditation agency, according to Superintendent Wayne Ogden.

Given the lack of resolution on state funding, the warning status "is not a surprise," Ogden told the School Committee recently. The district is forwarding NEASC's warning letter to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in hopes of improving Franklin's chances for obtaining state funds.

The School Committee had applied for the state's reimbursement program last year, but Franklin's request was not among the 83 projects announced in November as leading candidates in the authority's first round of funding. Over the next five years, the agency is planning to distribute $2.5 billion toward school construction projects.

Katherine Craven, executive director of the state School Building Authority, said the high school not making the initial round of funding "doesn't mean that Franklin doesn't have problems, but it wasn't among the worst."

As part of its examination of Franklin's application, the authority performed a site review of the high school last August, but could not determine whether the proposed repairs are urgent. Craven said she has not seen the accrediting association's most recent letter, and is interested in learning what caused the organization to put Franklin High on warning status.

She said Franklin's request for state aid is on hold, meaning that it has not been designated for funding but the building authority is open to receiving more information about the district's needs.

"We'll certainly be talking to the town of Franklin and their legislative representatives to see what can be done," Craven said.

In the coming weeks, the School Committee will ask the Town Council to establish a local building committee to review options for the high school and make recommendations for its renovation or replacement, chairman Roy said.

"Like everything else, the costs of construction materials are increasing. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be," he said.

The School Committee commissioned a facility study by Kaestle Boos Associates, an architectural firm with offices in Foxborough, in order to address the concerns raised by NEASC in its 2005 accreditation report. The regional organization's criticisms included the presence of rusted shelves in the chemical storage area, the lack of emergency showers in some science labs, reductions in custodial staffing levels, and the lack of handicap access in several locations in the school.

The firm delivered a number of renovation options in the fall of 2006, but the School Committee's Feb. 26 meeting was the first time that price tags were attached to the proposals, as well as the first presentation of a proposed new building, Roy said.

Architect Michael McKeon presented three options for renovating and adding to the existing building, ranging in cost from $93 million to $100 million. All three involve various placement options for a new or renovated science wing and auditorium.

McKeon said his firm's preferred option calls for renovating the center portion of the school, and building a two-story science wing, and a separate auditorium. "This is a soup-to-nuts renovation to bring the school totally up to 21st-century standards," he said.

Kaestle Boos estimated the cost of this option at $93 million to $97 million. Construction would take about 30 months, and involve "a lot of rerouting of students" while various areas of the school were being renovated, McKeon said.

Building a completely new school would cost $120 million to $130 million. McKeon said that the facility could be built on the other side of the existing field house on what are now playing fields. The fields could be rebuilt where the school building is now.

Traffic would be routed straight through the site from Oak Street to Panther Way, with a bus drop-off loop in the rear and a drop-off area for cars in the front, McKeon said.

Building a new school would take less time than a renovation, 22 to 24 months, as construction crews wouldn't be working on an inhabited building, McKeon said.

School Building Authority spokeswoman Carrie Sullivan said Franklin officials should keep the authority informed about any high school design options being considered.

Franklin must take steps to avoid seeing the high school placed on probationary status, says Superintendent Wayne Ogden.

Time to act

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