School projects emphasize environment, community; King Open kids gets A/C
The new Martin Luther King Jr. School/Putnam Avenue Upper School building is set to be ready for students September 2015, City Manager Richard C. Rossi told the School Committee at its Tuesday meeting.
“It was such a difficult job for remediation,” Rossi said, referring to environmental issues at the site that threatened to set the schedule further behind. Over the next year the city will keep testing soil and removing and replacing it if contaminated, he said.
At the same time, work on the building will continue. Steel structure and walls are to start going up this fall, and by the start of next year the crews will be on interior work to get ready for school in September.
The King Open/Cambridge Street Upper School building renovation is next, with the architect selection process to begin this summer. Next year will be the last school year in the old building, Rossi said. The King Open School will replace the vacating King School at the Longfellow Building, which will be its home for four years. The CSUS is slated to move to the Kennedy-Longfellow School, which the Putnam Avenue Upper School is sharing.
The complicating issues for the Cambridge Street building will be the many potential uses, all to be examined during the feasibility studies scheduled for the first half of next year. The site also contains the Valente Public Library and Gold Star Mothers Memorial pool on the Berkshire Street side of the block, and both will be part of the renovation. The Frisoli Youth Center in the same block will need to be accommodated. In addition, the Department of Human Services has a preschool in the building that will have to be included.
The city will also explore the possibility of including school department administrative offices in the new building. “What would [that] do to the cost of the building?” Rossi wondered. “We would be remiss not to look into that.”
“We approach [the school building] like a full public works project,” Rossi said. “When it’s done we want you to feel like there is something there for you, too, even if you are not at that school.”
“But at no time will we take away from what that school needs to be because of the library or the pool” or the administrative space, Rossi said emphatically.
Cambridge was turned down for state money for both buildings, school department Chief Operating Officer Jim Maloney said in a building and grounds subcommittee meeting earlier in the day. Cambridge is unusual, he said, in going forward with school buildings without state financing. Boston is the only other city in the state that he knows to build schools with 100 percent local funding. “We build at a higher level than the state would fund anyway,” he added. Bonds issued to pay for the Cambridge Street building will start in fiscal year 2016 and continue through fiscal year 2018, Assistant City Manager Lisa Peterson said.
School Committee members pressed Rossi on a commitment to involve the community in planning and keep clear communication with neighbors.
Rossi pointed to the 15 community meetings held about the King School and was explicit that “community” meant people from the school and neighborhood. He said the construction team has a good relationship with the Putnam Avenue abutters.
“The worst part is demolition. It’s dirty and dusty. We try to do this when windows are most apt to be closed,” Rossi said, though the delays at the King School meant they had a less-than-ideal schedule. “The project manager’s phone number is posted and he returns calls every day,” Rossi assured.
The Putnam Avenue building will be “quite a different school than anything we’ve seen before in terms of sustainability,” Rossi said. It and the Cambridge Street building will be net zero buildings, meaning they use about the same amount of energy created on the site through renewable energy. Cambridge zoning requires a “silver” energy rating, “but we are shooting for ‘gold,’” Peterson said. Gold was achieved with the Putnam Avenue building.
Committee member Patty Nolan asked what the city was doing to account for climate change in the design of the buildings, such as putting mechanicals above potential flooding. Peterson said planners hope to complete a vulnerability assessment for the city by the end of the year, and Rossi assured that they would consult city experts through the design and build phases.
Other capital projects in the works include:
A new roof for the Kennedy-Longfellow, with officials hoping for a $3.5 million green roof solar panel and looking for incremental funding
New boilers for Graham & Parks and Fletcher Maynard Academy, with the G&P boiler coming first because its playground is being renovated this summer, and the boilers are underneath
Continued “incremental work” in other buildings, including miscellaneous repairs, improving energy sustainability and using Community Preservation Act funds for playground refurbishing
Renovation of the Tobin/Rindge Avenue Upper Schools building after the Cambridge Street building
Maloney expressed in the subcommittee meeting that he “would love to sit down and take the time” to reexamine the fee structure that the school department uses for some renters of the schools. “We subsidize a lot of people in those buildings,” making it clear that he was referring not to youth events but to independent church and educational organizations. The current arrangements “may not be fair to our school populations.”
School Committee members asked for attention to several other issues relating to school building plans, including the ability to accommodate projected rising enrollment; thinking broadly about schools as “community centers” that can serve many needs; reexamining the K-5 buildings in light of their having younger population since the middle school students moved to new upper schools”; and making sure planning “intersects” with any early childhood task force findings about universal pre-kindergarten education.
Rossi assured committee members that his staff “definitely share your interests and concerns.”
King Open sauna gets a fix
After three years of requests to the administration and public appeals to the committee and City Council for a solution to the extreme heat at King Open, fresh eyes solved the problem. Last week two Movin Cool Classic air conditioners appeared in the hallway outside of the school’s second-floor fifth-grade classrooms. With the help of some tubes they are blowing cooler air toward students.
New employee Lead Electrician Bill Tinker discovered two circuits that were dedicated to an unused chair lift – the building also has an elevator – after three years of the school department reporting no feasible solution costing less than $9,000. This allowed the school to run air conditioning units recycled from the high school construction project.