by Ann Needle
At last Thursday’s Tri-Town meeting in Lancaster, Minuteman High School unveiled its long-awaited plans —and price estimates — for revamping the region’s outdated career and technical high school. And the top recommendation (so far) is for a new building by 2020.
Minuteman Superintendent Dr. Edward Bouquillon told school and town officials from Stow, Bolton, and Lancaster that, at an estimated $132.6 million, “The most reasonable option is to build a new school.” Though this would not be the least expensive route, he explained the complications that would likely come with the other recommendations for overhauling the school.
According to project architect Kaestle Boos Associates, Inc., this option of constructing a new school while occupying the current building actually would cost the 16 Minuteman district towns roughly $79.6 million, thanks to up to 40% reimbursement by the MA School Building Authority. (Minuteman filed its project with the MSBA before that state agency lowered its reimbursement rate.)
Also receiving MSBA rate would be a renovation, costing about $105.9 million with reimbursement ($176.5 million total cost); a renovation/addition, at $105.2 million ($175.3 million); and building a new school and demolishing the current one, at $86.9 million ($144.9 million), with Bouquillon noting that the MSBA does not reimburse demolitions. Not eligible for MSBA funding would be repair options, ranging from $71.1 million to $141.7 million, as estimated by the Minuteman School Committee’s Non-MSBA Building Plan Subcommittee.
Building while occupying has the advantage of potentially taking the shortest time to finish, at about 2-1/2 years, said Bouquillon. Other options would range from 2-3/4 to 10 years (for repairs) to complete, causing a bigger strain on teachers and students and exposing the project to rising costs, he remarked.
Another reason timing is crucial is because Minuteman has begun a 4-year transition to a new Education Program Plan. Bouquillon reported that, to make Minuteman’s courses more relevant and cost-efficient, the school is phasing out two programs, adding two, and merging two. Any long-term construction would jeopardize that plan, he added.
Concerning construction, the result of these program changes should mean a smaller school and fewer students, which Bouquillon maintained should result in lower costs for salaries and building maintenance. The build-while-occupied plan would mean reducing the student body to about 628 students, from roughly 745 today.
Since opening more than 40 years ago, Minuteman has not undergone any extensive renovations. The resulting wear and tear was reflected in a “warning” status issued to Minuteman by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in November 2012, citing the building’s deteriorating condition.
Regional Agreement Crucial
Come July, the MSBA should have a decision on whatever preferred building option is voted by the Minuteman School Committee. The Minuteman timetable has the project coming to town meetings for votes in spring 2016, with construction starting in 2018.
One key to capturing voter approval could be the status of the school’s regional agreement between its 16 towns.
The current agreement would call for each Minuteman district to approve the project plans. However, given it has been tough to get 16 different towns to vote unanimously, Minuteman has been trying to get the districts to approve a new agreement that would, among others, make it easier for Minuteman’s towns to challenge member districts that vote “no” on questions of taking on debt.
Bouquillon reported that most Minuteman towns (including Stow, Bolton, and Lancaster) have voted in the new agreement. Five towns voted to “pass over” a decision at their 2014 town meetings, but will reconsider the agreement at their spring meetings, he said. Though Wayland voted it down last year, Lancaster Selectman Jennifer Leone commented that the vote is going back to this spring’s town meeting. Bouquillon said Minuteman aims to have the new agreement in place by June 30.
Meanwhile, given more than half of Minuteman’s students coming from outside its district, Bouquillon stressed the school is working on attracting more in-district students. Minuteman reported that, by next school year, Stow will have 19 students at Minuteman, down from 29 in 2012; Bolton will hold steady at 10; and Lancaster will have 32, up from 23 in 2012.
“Parents’ perceptions about tech schools are changing,” something that Bouquillon said should help build in-district enrollment.