Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Updated October 20, 2021
1. Why are we performing a Feasibility Study?
The 53-year-old Stoneham High School, originally constructed as a Junior High School, has served the community well. The school has reached a point that it no longer meets today’s building codes, has inefficient and inoperable systems and does not support the educational curriculum. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has visited the school and agrees. The MSBA process is rigorous and transparent, and with the approval of the MSBA, the state will provide a grant to support the cost of the project.
2. How long has the Feasibility Study been underway?
This process commenced over eight years ago with the submission of the initial Statement of Interest (SOI) for the Stoneham High School to the MSBA by the Select Board and School Committee. The MSBA deferred the SOI, as well as subsequent submissions for five successive years until the March 2018 submission, which MSBA reviewed and approved in December 2018, agreeing that a Feasibility Study should be undertaken on the Stoneham High School. The Town and the MSBA executed an agreement for the Feasibility Study in February 2020, which is being overseen by the SSBC.
3. What is the role of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)?
The MSBA is the state authority that administers and funds a program of grants for Massachusetts public school projects. The MSBA mandates a multi-step rigorous study and approval process encompassed within the Feasibility Study.
4. What options have been studied?
Ten design alternatives were discussed and evaluated by the SSBC. The Stoneham School Building Committee (SSBC) focused on the following criteria when developing the options: educational benefits, cost, minimal disruption during construction, sustainability, community use and traffic. The SSBC narrowed the options down to five at their September 20, 2020 meeting and selected the preferred option at the December 16, 2020 meeting. The Committee then developed detailed design documents for this option, and on June 21, 2021 voted to approve the Schematic Design for submission to the MSBA for approval. Options included repair of the existing school, multiple option for renovation and addition to the existing school and multiple options for new construction.
5. What is included in the project?
The Feasibility Study has concluded that the most cost-effective, sustainable and educationally appropriate solution is a new Stoneham High School while resulting in the least impact to the school and community during construction. The proposed new building will be sited on the current Franklin Street property in the southeast corner, on what is currently a practice field allowing the existing building to remain in operation. The building design is comprised of two wings, connected by Spartan Place on the first floor and a media bridge on the second floor. The east side of the building will house the District Offices, the High School offices, the Pre-Kindergarten Program, academic classrooms on the second and third floors, a gymnasium with an elevated walking track, and the food service and cafeteria area with access to Spartan Plaza, an outdoor seating and potentially classroom space. The west side of the building will be two stories with a state-of-the-art Auditorium with media spaces, music and choral class spaces and maker spaces.
The current design also includes an amphitheater for outdoor school and community cultural events, community walking paths around the perimeter of the property, re-aligned athletic fields with turf or natural grass and tennis courts all of which will also be accessible to town leagues.
6. What is included in the total project cost?
The total project cost is $189.6 million and the MSBA will reimburse the Town approximately $49.0 million. The estimated project cost to Stoneham is $140.6 million.
For a 30-year fixed bond estimated at 3.0%, the average annual tax impact will be approximately $1.44 per $1,000 of assessed residential value. On the average home assessed at $577,700, the estimated tax increase is an average of $832 per year. Reimbursement amount subject to MSBA approval. Finance terms and tax impact estimated.
7. What is included in the total project cost?
The total project cost estimate includes all construction costs – site work, playfields and demolition of the existing school. It also includes design fees, construction-related testing costs, construction contingencies and new furniture and educational technology equipment.
8. How was the 695 student Design Enrollment determined?
The MSBA invited the Town into the Eligibility Period in December 2018 based on the conditions identified in the Statement of Interest. The Eligibility Period was a 270-day period during which the Town was required to complete certain preliminary requirements. One of these requirements was to agree on the amount of students a revitalized Stoneham High School would be designed to house.
The process entailed Stoneham providing enrollment, housing, and development information to the MSBA. The MSBA developed a 10-year enrollment projection for the school. In a collaborative process, the MSBA and the Town participated in a Design Enrollment conference to review the MSBA’s projection, which calculated a 660 student Stoneham High School. The Town responded that key aspects of proposed housing developments and potential reductions in student out-migration may not have been adequately factored in and the MSBA increased their projection to 695 students. In September 2019, the Town and MSBA agreed that a revitalized Stoneham High School would be designed to house 695 grades 9-12 students.
9. When will the Town be voting to approve the project?
A Town Meeting is scheduled for October 4, 2021 to approve the funding for the project. The ballot vote to approve the exclusion of the costs from the so-called Proposition 2 ½ will occur on November 2, 2021.
10. What happens if the project is approved by the taxpayers?
The project is moved into the design development phase during which the design and drawings are further refined. This is followed by the construction documents phase when the construction bid documents are prepared by the architect with construction commencement scheduled for Summer 2022.
11. When will the school construction be completed?
The building construction will commence Summer 2022 and is estimated to be completed for the school year 2024, with the existing building demolition and sitework following thereafter. The parking lots and two of the fields will be completed in late Fall 2024 with the remainder of the playfields completed in the Spring of 2025.
12. What if the project is not approved by the Town?
The Town would lose the approximately $49 million in State grant funding to resolve the deteriorating conditions of the 53-year-old Stoneham High School. The Town would still have to spend approximately $128 million on capital improvements in the upcoming years to address deficiencies and bring the building up to current building codes without addressing educational programming. One hundred percent of these costs would be paid by the Town.
13. Will ongoing use of Stoneham High School be impacted during construction?
No, the distance between construction activity and the day-to-day functions of the existing school is designed to be adequate to ensure safety and no disruption of the educational process. A fenced-off construction zone, with dedicated construction vehicles access, will be constantly monitored for safety.
14. Will Franklin Street traffic be affected?
The project includes mitigation measures to improve the traffic along Franklin Street, especially during morning school arrivals. The roadways and parking has been expanded and redesigned to improve traffic flow and provide more queuing space for cars on site and off of Franklin Street. Additionally, a new traffic signal is being planned for the Stevens Street intersection, synchronized with the new signal at the school entrance to improve traffic circulation.
15. What does Zero Net Energy mean and why is it important to Stoneham?
Zero Net Energy (ZNE) means a building produces as much clean, renewable energy on the building and surrounding grounds in a given year as it uses from the electric company. So overall at the end of the one-year period, it has zeroed out the energy it used from the utility by producing an equal amount of clean renewable energy locally. This is important to Stoneham as the high school will be the single largest energy use building in Town and being ZNE will provide flexibility to the Town in reducing costs over the decades to come.
16. Is the Pre-School portion of the project reimbursable?
The MSBA regulations provide reimbursement for Pre-School classrooms and spaces dedicated for special education. The Pre-School program totals 13,725 net square feet. The Pre-School classrooms and spaces dedicated for special education total 11,300 net square feet and are eligible for reimbursement. The remaining spaces associated with the Pre-School program, including administrative offices, conference rooms, nurse, storage and lunchroom total 2,425 net square feet and are not eligible for reimbursement. Relocating the Pre-School program to the high school, creates additional space in the three elementary schools to accommodate the growing kindergarten thru fourth grade student population.
17. Are the Central Administration Offices reimbursable?
The MSBA regulations do not provide reimbursement for Central Administration Offices, but allow their inclusion in projects for the benefit of the community. The Central Administration Offices have been housed in the high school since 1981 and are easily accessible to the community at this location. Locating the offices at the high school also provides for greater collaboration between the high school and the Superintendent’s office. No other schools, including the middle school, have the capacity to house the offices and there is no other Town space available. If not located in the high school, an alternative location would need to be found. This would require either a new building or building acquisition and renovation, which would be more costly to the Town.
18. Why is synthetic turf being used instead of grass fields?
The three synthetic turf fields, comprised of two multi-purpose soccer fields and the Spartan Stadium field, will provide the high school, community and youth sports significantly more play field use than grass fields. The high school design reduces the total amount of playfields from the existing 7 fields down to the proposed 5 fields due to site geometry, proper field orientation and adjustments to meet regulation size standards. A grass field can only support up to 180 plays per year, while a synthetic field can support up to 800 plays per year and can be played on when the new school is opened, not having to wait the three growing seasons for grass fields to establish. The high school program alone needs 500 plays per year. The three synthetic fields will utilize environmentally friendly infill, require no fertilization, no irrigation and no mowing. The synthetic fields will also allow for safe year-round use, be unaffected by weather, allow for equal on-campus playtime and avoid late evening practices for all sports. The synthetic turf fields are a safe alternative for year-round play, are specified with organic coconut husk fill and provide better drainage than grass fields.
19. If the votes do not pass, what are the next steps?
The Town Meeting vote and the Ballot vote are two separate votes. The Town Meeting vote is to appropriate the total project funding and is contingent upon the passage of the Ballot Vote. The Ballot Vote is to approve the exclusion of the appropriated funds from the limits of the so-called Proposition 2 1/2.
If the Town Meeting vote fails, the Town would need to decide if another Town Meeting is to be scheduled to bring the project back for approval, or not pursue approval of this project. Should the Town decide the latter, the MSBA approval of the project would be voided and the Town would be removed from the MSBA Capital Pipeline.
If the Town Meeting vote passes, but the Ballot Vote fails, the Town would need to decide if another Ballot Vote is to be scheduled to bring the debt exclusion question back to the voters, or not pursue approval of the question. Should the Town decide the latter, the MSBA approval of the project would be voided and the Town would be removed from the MSBA Capital Pipeline.
The MSBA policy on failed votes requires the Town to submit their plan to MSBA within 10 business days. The MSBA will review the plan to determine if it can continue to set aside the funds for the project. In the event the MSBA determines to remove the project from the Capital Pipeline, the Town would need to submit a new Statement of Interest and await a second invitation from the MSBA to conduct a Feasibility Study should the Town decide to pursue a project with MSBA. It took five successive annual submissions to MSBA to be invited originally. The cost for the subsequent Feasibility Study would not be reimbursable.
If there is a no vote, the Town will likely lose millions of dollars in State reimbursement, will still have a high school requiring approximately $128 million in code repairs with no educational program improvements, continue to be on Accreditation Warning status, lose the opportunity to increase the elementary school capacity gained by relocating the Pre-School program, lose the opportunity to reduce the operating costs of the high school thru the net-zero energy design, lose the opportunity to upgrade the playfields, roadways, and traffic conditions, and be subject to millions of dollars in cost escalation over the years it will take to reach this stage of a project in the future.
20. What is the cost of the project that is not reimbursed?
The MSBA determines the reimbursement for each project based on multiplying the eligible project costs by the reimbursement rate approved for the Town. Eligible project costs are calculated by subtracting ineligible project costs from the total project cost. The MSBA regulations define ineligible costs, and examples specific to this project are: sitework related costs in excess of 8% of the building cost, construction costs in excess of $360 per building square feet, gymnasium and auditorium spaces above MSBA guidelines, Central Administration Offices, Pre-School support spaces, concession stand, press box and associated outdoor toilet facilities, asbestos floor tile abatement, hazardous material removal associated with sitework, furniture and education technology costs over $2,400 per student, legal fees, moving expenses, and construction contingencies over 1%. The total project cost is $189,593,594 and eligible costs for reimbursement are $88,923,603. Applying the approved reimbursement rate of 55.10% to the eligible costs equates to a reimbursement grant of $48,968,062.
21. What portion of the Gymnasium and Auditorium are not reimbursable and why?
The MSBA regulations calculate the amount of reimbursable space for physical education related spaces, including the gymnasium, locker rooms, team rooms and storage, based on the student design enrollment. The Town and MSBA have agreed to a student design enrollment of 695 students. The project includes 28,100 net square feet of physical education space, exceeding the MSBA guidelines by 8,008 net square feet, with the gymnasium accounting for 4,000 net square feet of this amount and the locker rooms, team rooms and storage accounting for the balance. The gymnasium is designed to be 16,000 net square feet, which matches the current gymnasium size, however the MSBA will only provide reimbursement for up to a 12,000 net square feet gymnasium. The 16,000 net square feet allows the high school to continue the simultaneous use of the gymnasium for gymnastics, physical education classes and athletics, while also supporting an elevated jogging track for indoor practice and community use.
Similarly, the MSBA regulations calculate the amount of reimbursable space for the auditorium and support spaces based on the student design enrollment. The seating capacity per MSBA regulations is 2/3 of the student design enrollment, which equates to 463 seats. The auditorium is designed for 600 seats to allow for greater community use, including Town Meeting and attendance at school performances.
22. How does the state determine the reimbursement rate?
The MSBA regulations define the formula to calculate the reimbursement rate for each community. The statutory formula applies a base rate of 31% for all communities, which is then adjusted based on three socioeconomic factors: Community Income Factor (if any), Community Property Wealth Factor (if any), and Community Poverty Factor (if any). For Stoneham, added to this figure are Incentive points for Maintenance and Energy Efficiency, bringing the total reimbursement rate to 55.10%.
23. What is the payback period for the features to make the building net zero?
The proposed building will be designed to be energy efficient and operate at Zero Net Energy, ultimately saving taxpayers significant dollars beginning in year one and over the 50-year life cycle of the system, amounting to between $14 and $21 million, while also reducing the building’s carbon footprint. The payback for the energy performance features, which include a R-35 and R-40 wall and roof envelope, triple glazed windows, lighting design of no more than 0.5 watts per square foot, electrical plug load management, approximately (60) 700 feet deep geothermal wells and rooftop and parking canopy-mounted electric generating photo-voltaic arrays, is within the first year of operation.
24. Will the amount of glass affect the building’s energy performance?
The building is designed with an overall window-to-wall ratio of 25%, which will provide for significant energy performance. The triple glazed windows are sized to provide exceptional natural light in the classrooms and Spartan Place, while providing a U-value of 0.26.
25. Are there any programs to help fixed income individuals with the project’s tax impact?
Information regarding potential tax exemptions can be found with the Town Assessor’s Office and online at https://www.stoneham-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/4247/Fiscal-Year-2022-Exemption-Guidelines
26. How can I keep informed of the high school project?