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Angier Elementary School plans presented in Newton

Posted by Evan Allen  July 16, 2013 05:45 PM

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Newton officials unveiled the first complete picture of what a new Angier Elementary School might look like Monday night – and announced that the project, financed in part by a tax increase approved by voters in March – has come in right on budget.

“We are very happy to be here tonight,” said the city’s Chief Financial Officer Maureen Lemieux at a joint meeting of the Board of Aldermen and the School Committee where completed schematic designs were revealed. “We are on budget, we are on schedule.”

The total project budget is $37.5 million, which is in line with the estimates officials have made in the past. The city is anticipating at least $10 million in aide from the state, if not more, Lemieux said.

The Angier School Building Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on sending the schematic designs and budget to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which will help finance the project.

School Committee member Jonathan Yeo, who is on the building committee, said that the district hopes to sign a project agreement with the authority this fall.

In March, Newton voters approved two debt exclusions totaling $3 million to help rebuild Angier and Cabot Elementary Schools, as well as a permanent tax increase of $8.4 million to fund the city’s other capital and operating needs.

On Monday night, according to the city clerk, aldermen also voted to approve a request from Mayor Setti Warren to authorize appropriating $1 million from bonded indebtedness to fund a feasibility study for the renovation or replacement of Zervas Elementary, another of Newton’s aging schools.

Until now, the projected budget for the Angier project was based on educated estimates using square footage. But once the 100 percent schematic designs were complete, the city was able to get detailed cost breakdowns from designers, said Yeo.

“This is a very important intermediary step,” said Yeo in an interview after the meeting. “This is more than conceptual. We’re now into exactly how the building is laid out, what materials, how the building is constructed, and how the site is laid out.”

The budget for the project includes $26.2 million for construction costs and $4 million for off-site improvements, which will include a retaining wall between the school and the train tracks that run alongside it, a new playground, and traffic and parking improvements. It also contains $3.8 million for design and administration costs; $1.1 million for furnishings, equipment and educational technology; $1.6 million for contingencies, and $750,000 for the feasibility study.

The three-story Waban school will replace the current Angier, built in 1919 and “woefully undersized” by today’s standards, Yeo said.

“Kids are having lunch in a basement hallway,” he said. “Many of the classrooms are 40 percent less than they’re supposed to be, they’re crowded.”

The new Angier will be fully air-conditioned – a first for elementary schools in Newton.

The three-story, 74,960 square-foot building will have a full-court gym, said DiNisco Design principal architect Leno Filippi, who presented the plans to aldermen on Monday. Newton residents will be able to use the gym during off-hours, said Yeo.

The front of the school will serve as a gathering space for parents and children: an open plaza with trees and places to sit.

Inside, the hallways will be dotted with “breakout rooms” and activity tables for students to work in small groups or one-on-one with specialists; there will be extra classroom space, designated spots for after-school programs, and for the first time, Angier students will have a cafeteria to have lunch in. There will be two “quiet rooms” for students who need to calm down.

Classrooms will be located only on the second and third floors – partly for security reasons in the wake of the Newtown shootings, and partly so that teachers will be able to work together, said Yeo. The front doors will require guests to buzz in, and will be in direct sight of administration offices.

The gym has been moved from the front to the back of the school, to allay neighbor fears that the new building would be blocky.

At Monday night’s meeting, some aldermen questioned why some parts of the building, especially in the back, were not more uniformly brick, as earlier thinking had suggested they would be. The exterior of the school is mostly brick, but also contains textured concrete, metal and glass.

“If, as an architect, your original architecture was brick, then let’s stick with the brick,” said alderman at large Marc Laredo. Filippi said that eliminating some brick and switching to textured concrete saved the project about $65,000, a move that Laredo called “pennywise and pound foolish."

Aldermen Vice President Cheryl Lappin requested a list of changes architects have made to bring down the cost of the project.

Others raised concerns about the safety of traffic flow around the school, pointing in particular to one tight corner, which they said looked like a blind spot. And some asked if architects could include more references to the old Angier’s historical architecture in the new design.

But many questions revolved around smaller details – will the children be able to get up to the roof for supervised science experiments, where they drop watermelons and cannonballs like Galileo? Will there be a place for them to play “off-the-wall” outside? Can the building support a “green roof,” and will the kitchen have room for children to try cooking?

Filippi said architects will consider those questions.

The schematic designs are not final, said Yeo – he expects changes, though not major ones.

Construction is slated to begin in the summer of 2014, and the school is set to open in the fall of 2016. Carr Elementary School on Nevada Street will be used as swing space while Angier is under construction.

Evan Allen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen

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