Estimate for new Manchester school drops $3.4 million

Courtesy photoAn artist's rendering of what the proposed new Manchester Memorial School would look like.

MANCHESTER — The cost for a proposed new Manchester Memorial Elementary School has been cut by $3.4 million.

The new estimate of $52.2 million was finalized by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which accepted the Manchester Essex Regional School District into its grant program in August. The program offers guidance on cost-effective projects that fit the needs of Memorial Elementary's educational program.

MSBA will also reimburse the district an estimated $12 million on construction costs. The remaining $40 million would be fronted by the district's towns of Manchester and Essex.

James LaPosta, principal and chief architectural officer at JCJ Architecture — the building firm chosen to handle construction — and project architect Lauren Braren discussed the building schematics at a School Building Committee meeting last week.

The proposed two-story, 77,115-square-foot building will be built on the site of the current school. It boasts expanded, 900-square-foot classrooms — three per grade; a combined cafeteria, auditorium space with stage and regulation‐size basketball court; two special education classrooms; two pre-K classrooms with its own side entrance to the building; rooms for music, art, and foreign language classes; and an expanded parking and pick-up area, among other improvements.

Three outdoor play areas will be located in the front and back of the building, and near the pre-kindergarten side entrance. Solar panels could go on its roof, although there are no plans to install them at this time. Space will be reserved for possible future expansions. 

One person at the committee meeting asked how the Manchester Parks and Recreation's summer program at Memorial Elementary will be accommodated. Superintendent Pam Beaudoin answered that as of now, spaces to store the program's game and sports equipment have not been designated. But, children will still be able to use the turf field and the school's facilities.

Questions also arose regarding space for a senior center. LaPosta said there is not enough space on site for another building, especially when factoring in traffic and transportation space for both.

Another topic brought up was air-conditioning. Although the new building would not have a central air-cooling unit, Beaudoin said, rooms will be built to regulate airflow and feature mechanisms to naturally dehumidify air during hot days.

The current elementary school, built in 1955, has been showing its age over the past eight years. In 2010, the MSBA ranked the Memorial School building in the bottom 16 percent of all public school facilities in the state. 

At last week's meeting, Beaudoin noted that in the existing building money is needed to expand some classrooms, and one hallway constantly floods, prompting the need for numerous drain and floor repairs. Other issues include asbestos in the flooring and lead-contaminated paint on the building's exterior. Needed repairs to the current school have a price tag of $10 million, she said.

While the new school is estimated to cost $52.2 million, studies put the cost of a complete renovation at $35 million, and the district would bear all the cost. In 10 years, the cost of constructing the proposed school could increase to $85 million, based on a 5 percent annual cost escalation and 63 percent compounded interested rate.   

Manchester and Essex will vote at their respective town meetings on whether the proposed new school should be included on the fall ballot. Manchester Town Meeting is set for Oct. 15 and Essex's for Oct. 16. Election Day is Nov. 6. If voters approve, construction will begin in the summer of 2019.

Mike Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.