New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

This forum is for discussion of the High School and related issues.

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby kmagyoyo on Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:01 pm

I hope that the new Newton high school disaster is not indicative of how the new school building authority works. Imagine convincing everyone that your 31 year old high school is no longer sufficient, you are entitled to a new taj mahal and the project escalates beyond control. Isn't this what the authority was set up to prevent? CDM must have done their survey work.

Higher and higher
How could the cost of Newton North rise so much so fast?
By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff | January 31, 2008

First came sticker shock. Then the burning question: How could the price for a high school project that was already the most expensive in state history increase by 32 percent in just one year?

In the weeks leading up to last January's referendum on the city's plan for a new showcase facility to replace Newton North High School, Mayor David B. Cohen said the project's cost could be held down to $141 million. A year almost to the day later, Cohen appeared before the city's Board of Aldermen and said the cost had risen to $186 million or even higher.

"As we were undergoing the value engineering process, Mayor Cohen suggested $141 million as a target that we could reach as a community," city spokesman Jeremy Solomon said. The figure "was based on the best information available at the time."

So, how to explain the $45 million jump - $31.6 million in the last six months alone? Globe West attempts to answer the question, using interviews with Newton officials and the project's critics, and an examination of city documents.

The starting point

Cohen's critics say that the $141 million figure was dubious at best. According to the city's own documents, the projected cost - based on the design at the time of the referendum - was actually significantly higher, at about $154 million.

To pull lower the price, the city drafted $11 mil lion in suggested cost-saving design changes, known as the "value engineering list," then tacked on $2 million in as-yet-unidentified cuts to arrive at $141 million.

Those savings, however, quickly proved to be illusory.

In the end, city documents show, Cohen and an advisory committee adopted only about $6.5 million of the saving measures - such as substituting vinyl flooring for porcelain tile - but they were quickly canceled out by increases in other areas.

Six months after the referendum passed by a comfortable margin, the city revealed the price for the school was almost exactly what it had been before the vote - about $154 million.

Cohen's most recent figure of $186 million includes nearly $32 million in new cost increases, which the city has divided into eight categories:

Site preparation

Shortly after construction crews broke ground last year, workers made two ominous discoveries - old buried demolition debris that contained asbestos, and a significant amount of undetected granite ledge - by themselves, the two complications could add as much at 8 percent to the project's overall cost.

Hazardous-materials crews were called to deal with the asbestos, and blasting teams were hired to remove the ledge.

The extra work has delayed the project and increased site-preparation costs to $30.9 million, a rise of $14.4 million (87 percent) from last year's estimate of $16.5 million.

Design complications

In percentage terms, design issues account for the greatest cost increases, going from $6.7 million to $14.9 million, a 122 percent rise. Critics have become even more unhappy at news that the project's key architect, Graham Gund of Cambridge, quietly signed an agreement with the city last summer allowing his firm to step back from an active role.

"Does this happen in the private sector?" asked Alderman Ken Parker, who is mulling a possible election campaign against Cohen next year. "Yes, but not without people getting fired."

The excavation problems, last year's referendum on the site plan, and other complications have pushed the completion date for the project from December 2009 to at least September 2010, forcing the city to extend the contracts for its main architectural team of the Gund Partnership and Dore & Whittier, officials said.

And, the need to meet last summer's July 1 groundbreaking deadline, set by the state School Building Authority, forced designers to bring in more staff and subcontractors, further raising costs.

Manager's contract

The project's delays forced the city to extend by a full year its $2.5 million contract with project management firm Turner Construction, adding $1.1 million to its bill.

Hazardous materials

Burned by the costly discovery of asbestos during site preparation, the city has set aside another $500,000 to deal with any unexpected hazardous material that might surface when the current school is torn down, mayoral spokesman Solomon said.

Additional square footage

Designers recently discovered that Gund's original vision failed to include enough cafeteria and kitchen storage space to serve the school's 1,800 students, city officials said. The resulting additional 3,742 square feet will cost $1.2 million for design and construction.

Steel estimates

Worldwide economic fluctuations have made the cost of construction materials a true wild card. The good news: A drop in prices and design changes helped the city trim the costs for steel and other metals by $5 million early last year, to an estimated total of about $11 million.

The bad news: The city's contractor, Dimeo Construction, has determined that designers underestimated the amount of steel needed by 290 tons, pushing the total cost back up to more than $12 million, officials said.

Early site work

In another error that angered critics, the city badly underestimated (by 65 percent) the cost for demolishing the football stadium and for preparing and grading the site for the Gund design. This added $2.4 million to the project.

Miscellaneous items

Every time the price of the project goes up, officials have to tack on another 15 percent to the increase to cover unforeseen costs as well as to update the construction bond and the insurance for the project. The additional $2.8 million brings the increased costs for the project to $31.6 million.

A final caveat: Since the construction documents are only 80 percent complete, officials say the final project cost is unknown. While Solomon said the city could "catch a break" if the cost of materials continues to moderate, Cohen has cautioned that the price could still top $186 million.

After the construction documents are completed, expected in March, the city will negotiate with Dimeo for a guaranteed maximum price for the project.

The final number, Solomon said, should be made public in May - just about when voters will be asked to decide on a $23.9 million property-tax increase.

Newton North is likely to be at the center of the Proposition 2 1/2 override debate, even though Cohen has insisted it is needed to cover an operating deficit caused by rising healthcare, energy, and pension costs, and not the Newton North project.

Critics, including Board of Aldermen members Paul Coletti and Cheryl Lappin, say that the mayor's stance is misleading, as money to pay for the project's debt service will come out of the city's operating budget.
User avatar
Posts: 318
Joined: Sun Apr 03, 2005 2:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby moretpani on Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:09 pm

Why are you so shocked?
Tewksbury management does the same thing

Look at the Senior Center
Look at the Sewer Plan

First low ball, then at the point of no return Ram it in.
Posts: 2038
Joined: Tue Jul 18, 2000 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby U8Coach on Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:50 pm

From my experience I can tell you with certainty that whatever the original budget proposal is, add 25% if you want to know the real cost to the taxpayers when the doors open.

I warned of such problems during the special meeting when the mall debate was the hot topic. When I asked the powers that be what kind of fund they had in mind to cover change orders, I got a whole series of blank stares.

Maybe the Police Station and the Libarry came in on time and on budget, but that is the exception and not the norm.

Voters: When you punch that ballot for a Debt Exemption (just another name for an override) remember that you are authorizing the additional 25% of the cost they don't know about!!!!

PS - It is not the Newton Mayor's fault that they found asbestos, but it is his fault that they rejected so many of the Value Engineering Proposals. Ask the parents if they need to have their kids walking on nicer floors tin school han they have in their homes!!!! When will the politicians stop thinking about taxpayer money like it is theirs to spend as they wish?

PPS: What were they thinking hiring Graham Gund. MIT and Harvard must be slowing down if Gund has time to design high schools.
Posts: 790
Joined: Sat Feb 03, 2007 2:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby moretpani on Mon Feb 11, 2008 8:34 pm

Open post to Tewksbury elected and appointed, officials:

Please take the time to read the Boston Globe article on Newton High school at

I especially would like you to pay extra attention the below section. It says,
"The public schools, after all,..." not F..n Senior Centers or bloated sewer systems.

The mayor said it would reaffirm the city's commitment to top-notch education, the architect said he hoped to build the best high school in the country, and voters ultimately supported building the most expensive school in state history. The public schools, after all, are why many people moved to Newton in the first place.
Posts: 2038
Joined: Tue Jul 18, 2000 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby Chasnbos on Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:19 pm

I guess it now or never !

Treasurer Cahill says it's time 'to get spending under control'

By J.J. Huggins
Staff writer

NORTH ANDOVER — Massachusetts needs "to get spending under control" as the nation ventures deeper into tough economic times, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill said yesterday.

It looks like fiscal year 2009, which begins July 1, is going to be "a challenge" and property values will drop. The state will "more than likely" receive less revenue, leaving officials to either "cut (the budget) substantially or raise taxes substantially," the Quincy Democrat told The Eagle-Tribune's editorial board.

Cahill attended the meeting at the newspaper after visiting two Haverhill businesses — DiBurro's Function Facility and Diversified Business Systems.

Hiking taxes is a bad idea, so state officials need to "at least level fund" spending and possibly cut the budget, Cahill said.

"Which obviously is going to force cities and towns to cut their budgets," he said. "There's no question it's going to be painful and it's going to have to be spread."

Failing to reel in spending now could hurt the state's economy for years to come, he said.

"I think it's far better to take a year or two of that pain than to take a decade or a half a decade of worse pain or stagnation," he said.

Less tax revenue means there will be less money for the state to spend on new schools. The approximately 80 projects for which the state has "tentatively" approved funding are safe, but there could be less for schools in the coming years, the treasurer said.

If the state is going to help a community pay for a school, they will look at renovating and repairing versus building from scratch, and they don't want to break the bank for huge schools like the $200 million building planned for Newton, Cahill said.

"We just won't allow it because we can't afford it," he said.

With tough economic times ahead, the Legislature has to realize they cannot fix everything by borrowing more money for projects.

"That goes for transportation, infrastructure, education, you name it," Cahill said.

He said leaders need to prioritize, and top billing should go to fixing bridges that severely require repairs. The structural integrity of bridges became a huge issue last August after a bridge collapsed in Minnesota and killed 13 people and injured 145.

"The bridges, I think, are one need that is not something you can put off," Cahill said. "If it means you have to put off some of the other projects or repair less roads, you're going to have to do it. Repair less schools, those are some tough fiscal decisions you're going to have to make."

The tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike will likely have to be increased, but there is no political will to install new tolls around the state or increase the gas tax, Cahill said.

Cahill is talking to state leaders this week. He met with Senate President Therese Murray Monday, Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday, and he plans to meet with Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi today, he said.

On the bright side, "Red Sox won today; that's good news," Cahill noted at the end of the meeting.

"I won't leave you with all bad news
If the state is going to help a community pay for a school, they will look at renovating and repairing versus building from scratch, and they don't want to break the bank for huge schools like the $200 million building planned for Newton, Cahill said.
Posts: 1105
Joined: Fri Sep 13, 2002 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby redbarchetta69 on Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:39 pm

Here in lies the problem. I'm not a civil engineer, but from what I saw from my five years at TMHS, it will cost as much, if not more, to renovate TMHS as it would to build a new one from scratch. Remeber a few years ago there was a $3.9 million plan to repair a few parts of the school, but it was rejected because of the usual suspects and some felt it was just a "band-aid".
Posts: 829
Joined: Tue Apr 24, 2007 1:01 am
Location: Amherst/South Tewksbury

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby moretpani on Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:51 pm

usual suspects

Say it like it is..
F..n Seniors
Posts: 2038
Joined: Tue Jul 18, 2000 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby Chasnbos on Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:57 pm

Wellesely in 2007 did a prelimiary cost estimate evaluation under MSBA guidelines for 1500 students

Effective alternatives review has required a preliminary look at costs. Cost evaluations have been developed in an effort to provide more specific information on the alternatives. Just as the alternatives provide information on spatial relationships (not design), the cost evaluations provide information on preliminary costs (not estimates). They have been drawn from current and projected construction costs, knowledge of the site conditions, phasing and project management.
The cost evaluations have been summarized into four major parts: Hard Costs, Soft Costs, Contingency and Escalation. The options cost evaluations are summarized as follows:
Major Renovations and Additions Option - $141 to $152 million
All New Construction Option - $136 to $148 million
It is important to note that these cost evaluations are based on 1,500 students. The cost evaluations will be adjusted to accommodate the increase in square footage required for 1,600 students, which is estimated to add another $3.5 - $4.5 million to each option’s cost. These cost evaluations are preliminary and will continue to be refined as the alternatives are refined. Additional costs that need to be reviewed include: modular/temporary classrooms, sustainable design in excess of stated goals, field re-construction, street and sidewalk mitigation and parking/transportation issues

So using this case senario 55% reimbursement the town would have to fund 65M of 140M
Posts: 1105
Joined: Fri Sep 13, 2002 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby krauseo on Thu Mar 27, 2008 5:24 pm

The High School Building Committee is meeting this evening at 7:00 PM in the Administrative Conference Room on the lower level of the Center School. It is an open meeting, and we will be discussing several things relating to the Town Meeting article the Committee has submitted. I invite anyone who is truly concerned about this project to attend.

I am a member of the Committee, and I think all the members have a good understanding of Tewksbury's budget situation and the general Yankee conservatism of our residents. I consider myself to be very conservative when it comes to spending taxpayers' money. I can confidently say that any high school project we undertake will not be like Newton North. We don't need to hire Graham Gund to design a school. We don't need "the best school in the country"--teachers have more to do with deciding the best school in the country than the building does. We need a modern, more functional facility that better supports our educational program, staff, students, and community; a facility that increases the program's effectiveness rather than one whose limitations we have to work around.

The state-required feasibility study (which will be explained in depth, along with the entire new state school building process, in an upcoming informational release from the Building Committee) will require us to examine both new construction and addition/renovation, so we will have real data in hand (rather than conjecture about the costs) to make that decision. Addition/renovation brings a higher reimbursement rate from the state, so while the overall cost of an addition/renovatioin project might not be not much different from a new building, can take longer, and causes lots of logistical problems, we have to take a serious look at it, both because the state says we have to and because it could bring millions of dollars more in reimbursement funds.

The state will set a limit on the total cost of the project, and will not reimburse towns who spend more than that amount. This will require communities to keep costs down and (hopefully) prevent the overruns we've seen in other projects. With any project there is a risk of overruns; it is our responsibility to make sure we do the work up front to get as correct a number as possible for the state-approved overall cost.

Finally, a small correction to the last post: the renovation plan proposed for the high school in 2005 was for $2.1 million, not $3.9 million. It would have remedied many issues with the current facility, and just about everything in the plan was "mobile"--could be moved to a new or renovated school. Unfortunately, it lost by 8 votes, and we have been paying for that vote ever since, in terms of accreditation issues, increased vocational school assessments, and decreased state aid because of an enrollment drop-off among incoming 9th graders over the past few years.
Posts: 1108
Joined: Wed Apr 26, 2000 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby moretpani on Thu Mar 27, 2008 5:30 pm

Seniors needed that money for a new senior center...
Posts: 2038
Joined: Tue Jul 18, 2000 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby Harry on Thu Mar 27, 2008 5:36 pm

Is it me or does any discussion of a new high school seem totally disconnected from reality?

We are 18 million in the red with the sewer. We are Ten million dollars in the red over the next two years with the town budget. We are maybe a two million dollar bill possibly coming from the EPA over the Rocco clean-up???? At least 30 million in the hole doesn’t seem like a good time to add on another 80 million or so.
Posts: 1139
Joined: Sun Dec 08, 2002 2:01 am
Location: Tewksbury

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby ELLE on Thu Mar 27, 2008 7:43 pm

We need a new high school to stop the bleeding of enrollment. How much money do we pay the tech and what portion of the debt does it cover? This isn't a want, IMO.
Posts: 1244
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2001 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby sean_czarniecki on Thu Mar 27, 2008 10:08 pm

Harry - While money is tight for most people, overrides for operational costs have a different mindset than debt exemptions for capital improvements. I'm willing to put money out there for capital improvements, but a little/lot more hesitant to do so for operational costs until the system is fixed (Ha!). Granted, once a capital improvements project is mismanaged, my wallet closes quickly. In the case of the high school, the amount of grant money available now is going to go away and the cost to the town will be at least double what it is now by the time our troubles with operational costs get taken care of.

Keith - Is there any way that we can do this project as a Design/Build or Lump Sum so that the liability is on the contractor? The cost gets set up front, the contractor gets that money, and any overruns are on their dime. You would see the project get done a lot more efficiently.
Posts: 1266
Joined: Thu May 02, 2002 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby krauseo on Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:40 pm

Hello Sean,

The Building Committee is going to investigate the use of a management process known as Construction Management at Risk, which affords some of the management benefits and cost protection you described, and if used also increases the state reimbursement percentage rate by 1 point (which might not sound like much, but it would likely translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars). The evaluation of this process makes up $40,000 of the $1.39 million the Building Committee is requesting to understake the state-required Feasbility Study and schematic design. It is money well spent if it turns into higher reimbursement in the end. The process is described fairly well at:

The Building Committee will strive both to keep the project's cost under control (and the new state process is built to do that) and to get our reimbursement rate to the highest sensible number.
Posts: 1108
Joined: Wed Apr 26, 2000 1:01 am

New High School - Please Don't Follow Newton's Example

Postby sean_czarniecki on Fri Mar 28, 2008 5:59 am

Thanks, Keith. That news is good and something that would need to be promoted now if the committee wants even the Feasibility Study article to have a chance of passing. There haven't been many capital improvements projects that have stayed under their budget and Newton's situation isn't helping anything. People are definitely scared of projects like this right now.
Posts: 1266
Joined: Thu May 02, 2002 1:01 am


Return to Tewksbury Memorial High School