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Town cuts back its plans for school

Initial design seen as too large by state

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / September 11, 2011

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School officials in Lincoln are working to scale back plans for a new kindergarten-to-Grade 8 school after the state raised concerns about its size and scope.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority sent local officials a letter early last month asking them to reduce the square footage of the portion involving new construction.

As part of its application to receive funding for the project, the school district submitted a feasibility study to the state agency in May that envisioned a $58.5 million project; the proposal exceeded state guidelines for square footage by about 40 percent.

For the last month, town and state officials have been collaborating on a compromise design.

“They’ve addressed many of our concerns,’’ said Matt Donovan, chief of staff for the School Building Authority. “We’ll continue to work with them to keep the lines of communication open. Both sides seem to be moving forward.’’

Superintendent Michael Brandmeyer said the school district has been working with its architects to cut about 16,000 square feet from the design. The change, however, will cost the town money. Brandmeyer said school officials plan to meet with the town’s Finance Committee tomorrow night to discuss the issue, though he does not yet know how much it will cost.

Brandmeyer said the revised plan will have fewer and smaller classrooms, one less computer lab, no preschool, and less new construction.

The initial plan called for about 50 percent renovation to the local district’s existing buildings and 50 percent new construction. The new plan calls for 63 percent renovation and 37 percent new construction, Brandmeyer said.

He said the changes have cut the cost by about 10 percent, and he hopes eventually to see the overall price tag end up at about $50 million.

Alvin Schmertzler, a School Committee member and chairman of the Lincoln School Building Committee, said the committee agreed to revise its proposal after receiving the state’s letter on Aug. 4. The building committee wrote back to the agency on Aug. 17, and had a follow-up meeting Sept. 1, during which members outlined ways to adjust the design.

“It was a rather productive meeting,’’ said Schmertzler. “They seemed pleased with the reductions and things we’ve taken out.’’

At the meeting, Schmertzler said, Lincoln officials also explained the reasoning behind the request for extra space in some key areas.

The building authority sets its square footage recommendations on statewide averages, Schmertzler said, but Lincoln offers more technology and sciences classes than most districts. He also said Lincoln’s limit on class sizes translates to a need for more classrooms.

Schmertzler said the Lincoln committee is planning a forum for Oct. 16 to discuss the project with residents. He said it will be an opportunity for the committee to detail the changes and take questions and comments from the public.

“We’d like to get more feedback,’’ Schmertzler said.

“That’s what we’ve been doing all along.’’

He said the comments from the state did not come as a surprise because the process is supposed to be give and take.

“This is part and parcel,’’ he said. “You come up with a plan and expect to have some conversations with the state. We have to be prepared to find alternatives.’’

Sara Mattes, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said she’s heard many residents express concern about the project’s $58 million price tag and about how quickly it’s moving forward.

“This left people breathless and didn’t leave a lot of time for the community to engage in a lot of back and forth,’’ Mattes said.

The local building committee held a community forum in May to discuss the options being considered for the Lincoln School, which was built in 1945 and has had a number of additions, the latest in 1994.

The town’s older students attend Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High.

Schmertzler said there is still plenty of time for community input, and noted that the district requested an extension for completing the feasibility study, so that local officials could make the revisions and present them to residents for feedback.

Bradmeyer said the district will likely resubmit the feasibility study in time for the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s January meeting.

If the state agency accepts the changes, the district would hire architects to develop a schematic design. Officials said a final plan could be ready in the fall of 2012, when voters would decide whether to fund the project, with some reimbursement from the state.

Officials looked at several options, from all renovation to all new construction to a mix of both, to deal with the school’s problems; they have noted that it has no sprinkler system, the roof leaks, the boiler floods, seals have broken on windows, the electrical system is so old the district can’t find replacement parts, and there is not enough space to meet current educational needs.

Brandmeyer said the district is putting together a fact sheet to show residents how much it would cost to simply renovate the building, which he said would be done without state assistance.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at