Reading Massachusetts Education

Chronology of RMHS Feasibility Studies

First Feasibility Study, Feb. 21, 1997 - Drummey, Rosane and Anderson (DRA), $40,000. The agreement is signed by Superintendent Harutunian and Town Treasurer/School Finance Director Beth Klepeis. Considering Town Meeting's charge given to the Building Committee, shouldn't this contract agreement have been created through the oversight of the Building Committee and signed by members the Building Committee? Why these signatures?

DRA presented extensive analysis of the high school and concluded that the building needed some repairs but was structurally sound. Recommendations for work were broken down to “Must do”, “Should do” and “Could do” categories. The report was a guide to upgrading the building. Shortly thereafter, approximately $1.8 million was appropriated by Town Meeting to address mechanicals and health and safety issues at RMHS.

As of 2003, DRA 1997 Reading student enrollment projections have had 99% accuracy; later enrollment studies by other architects and consultants have been up to 12% inflated, even though less time has elapsed since those projections were made.

DRA addressed "Title 9" issues easily within existing RMHS space (DRA Report p. 50, 53, 66, 67). There is no Title 9 issue and the practice of using locker rooms at the Field House for only boys, with girls having use of some of the lockers in the main building, has been an administrative “choice,” not a “space” issue.

The DRA graph (p. 36) accurately predicts (even in 2003) the impact delaying the RMHS project would have with placement on the State reimbursement list. Despite DRA warnings, school administration chose not to proceed with the RMHS project but to focus on elementary and middle school projects of less urgency.

The DRA report (p. 22) notes that much of the 126,900 sq. ft of excess space is used by the community-at-large (such as the auditorium, cafeteria, field house, library) and can be justified as such in applying for State reimbursement. The Industrial/Fine Arts wing was suggested for an early childhood center or all day kindergarten program.

Second Feasibility Study, April 13, 2000 - Strekalovsky and Hoit (S&H), $35,000 (No contract was ever signed and the process was conducted under the domain of the School Committee. Town Meeting appropriated $40,000).

Strekalovsky and Hoit found RMHS too small for their new inflated student enrollment projections (Advocate 1/21/99). S&H evaluated the building with primary recommendation that plumbing and electrical were key concerns. The most urgent heating issues (boilers, HVAC, ventilators) had been upgraded and repaired following the DRA report (Reading Chronicle 09/03/98, summer improvements --- 03/06/97, $1.85 million Town Meeting appropriation).

Strekalovsky and Hoit produced six RMHS options. Between February - March 1999, Reading received the following from S&H for $35,000: conceptural drawings, an educational consultant report (Zimmerman) for $3,000, as built plans for $5,000, existing conditions survey $12,000, schematic option, $12,000 and final report,$3000. Unfortunately, School Committee did not approve any of the six options. Sept. 1999, S & H put together Option C-3, allegedly, at no charge unless money was funneled to them via the Coolidge Middle School project, for which S & H was the architect.

Option C-3, September 1999 involved major changes, including turning the Girl’s Gym into a mini-theater and building a new gym off of the Field House. Those plans were crushed when Christine Lynch, State Department of Education (DOE) School Building Assistance (SBA) wrote a letter (10/01/01) clarifying that the State could not justify reimbursement for such an expansion, particularly for a school already larger than could be supported by Reading’s latest enrollment projections (which at that point were inflated to a peak 1600 students). With Reading’s existing RMHS student capacity of 2000 students, even SBA could not ignore the disparity between Reading's supposed expansion needs using inflated figures, sometimes approaching 1600 students, and the already ample RMHS facility.

Third Feasiblity Study Plus Schematic Design - Flansburgh & Associates (FIA) $418,000 (Contract signed by SBC Chair Russ Graham and process initiated under the domain of the School Building Committee). Compared to the first two RMHS feasibility studies, this is the first time anyone on the allegedly "independent" Building Committee signs the contract with the architect. At least on paper, for this 3rd feasibility study, the Building Committee is going through the motions of direct involvement, even though the outcome of the architect selection and project option has been predetermined apart from the SBC (10/02/02 Ray Porter letter to Chairman Russ Graham).

Public misconception is that the $418,000 cost (versus the $35,000 and $40,000 costs of the two previous feasibility studies) is due to the creation of a schematic design for Reading Memorial High School. In Spring 2002, the public was told repeatedly that $450,000 was needed, not for yet another feasibility study, but, allegedly, to create schematic designs that would provide more information and enable the voting public to make reasonable, educated decisions on the fate of Reading Memorial High School.

In reality, a third feasibility study was done (04/17/02 Central Register schematic posting, 9/16/02 Bowen / SBA letter, invoice 9/13/02 ---- 1/15/03 Central Register design posting ---- (Doc. Review Existing Conditions, Program Review and Verification). Of the $450,000 appropriated in Spring 2002, the Schematic Design segment cost only $103,000. Invoices for $219,000 clearly document the work of a third feasibility study. The architect refers to his work as a feasibility study in his letter to SBA's Christine Lynch. Though legally obligated to advertise the specific work to be done, the School Building Committee ( through Superintendent Harutunian) only posted for a Schematic design in the 04/17/02 Central Register. Even the January 15, 2003 posting for design services only references Flansburgh schematic work, when clearly feasibility phase work was done and paid for.

The present Flansburgh & Associates (FAI) contract runs from on or before June 15, 2002 to on or before June 15, 2003, "until Reading achieves an option approvable and reimbursable by the State" (Request for Qualifications, RFQ available 04/05/02 though not posted in the Central Register until 04/17/02). Why the delay in advertising for designer services? Was Flansburgh Inc., already working on Reading's elementary school projects and given nearly a two week advantage to prepare their qualifications for the RMHS renovation project?

Even FAI's Sid Bowen admits that the process of combining the feasibility study with schematics is "extraordinarily unusual" (.mp3 audio from the 12/23/02 rsbc meeting). It will be difficult to interest other architects in doing the design work after FAI has done the feasibility and schematics. Indeed, the 01/15/03 Central Register posting, 01/23/03 Chronicle notice and accompanying Request for Proposals (RFP 01/17/03) indicate a preference to the architect who has done the feasibility and schematics. Flansburgh & Asociates is the only firm that has done both. Clearly, other architects need not apply.

Usually, feasibility studies are done and an option chosen. Then the schematic, design development and sometimes construction documents are advertised. If the same study architect is chosen to continue on the project, an independent review (peer review) must be conducted by a knowledgeable and competent individual or firm doing such work. The feasibility designer's work must be found to be reasonable and adequate before the community can rehired that firm for the next stages of the project (MA Inspector General: Model Designer Selection Procedures #13). Reading did not follow these steps. Why? Who benefits from this irregular process? Certainly not the community.

Evolution of Options

By September 18, 2002, the original three Flansburgh options surfaced for the renovation (demolition and construction of a new building) of RMHS. Option 1 $49-$53 million, Option 2 $48-52 million and Option 3 was $52-54 million. No option advocated a renovation by simply upgrading or repairing the existing structurally sound high school. During interviews for the schematic designs, the School Building Committee was aware that FAI's past experiences in phasing projects was limited to use of new construction or rented space for "swing space," areas into which students could be rotated during construction (May 21, 2002 SBC Subcommittee materials). None of the examples of phasing Flansburgh provided used only existing space (see page 3 of the subcommittee materials). Flansburgh was hired anyway. However, construction and related phasing became a major factor in the decision to ultimately choose Option 3.

Chronology of Action at RSBC meetings

October 1, 2002: Options 3 A and 3 B surfaced, all involving major demolition of the original 1953 section of RMHS.

October 8, 2002: Options 1, 2 and yet another version of Option 3 were presented. Public input revolved around these options. Early site plans reduced a grove of trees and two synthetic playing fields appeared. (This version of Option 3 was submitted to SBA for the Dec. 1, 2002 deadline.)

November 20, 2002: School Committee voted for the October 8 version of Option 3.

December 11, 2002: A "Scheme 4" version of Option 3 appeared. Schematic Design "sketches" (conceptual drawings) illustrate the proposed option's exterior with a glass bridge connecting the new 4 story addition to the Field House. Existing connectors of the 1953 building (to the 1960s math/science wing) now are included in the demolition. Physical education locker rooms would be added onto the back of the existing field house. Library/Media Center, mechanicals and music are in close proximity, raising concern from some SBC members.

December 23, 2002: Yet another version dated Dec. 19, 2002 appears. Schematic Design Floor Plans of Option 3 now show that the mechanicals were moved to the same level as the Superintendent's Office (In 1998, three science labs, one on each floor, had been updated, renovated and made handicapped accessible). In this Dec. 19 plan, the Science and Math wing now will be gutted and science labs and math classrooms built in the new 4-story facility. The addition to the field house now includes a District Maintenance office as well as PE student lockers.

December 19, 2002: two site borings (B1 courtyard and B2 lower parking area) were done, indicating ledge on the hill and glacial matter in the lower area. Five borings had been scheduled but were not done because of "numerous underground utilities and their uncertain location." (Weber 12/19/02 Geotech Borings) Although Flansburgh had been on the job nearly 6 months, allegedly, only two borings could be done safely (before plans went to the project estimators in preparation for the Jan. 13 Special Town Meeting) because no one knew where utilities were buried. In reality, at an August 21, 2002 School Building Committee meeting, FAI architect Robert Peirce stated that RMHS site utilities could be documented from available existing drawings and Town agency information. There appears to have been a conscious effort not to gather adequate information about the site before the Special Town Meeting and election. Why?

The cost of the project may be greatly increased if the foundation conditions are not accurately evaluated before the project cost is finalized. Doing only two borings heightens the risk of inaccurate estimates for a $54 million project. Will Reading encounter the need to continually run pumps 24 hours/ day to "dewater" the foundation as occurs at the new Ipswich Middle / High School? What other costs may be associated with the blasting of ledge and potential damage to the remaining 1969 school structures and neighborhood homes? Could such damage then be used as an excuse to demolish the 1969 school building as well? Is the ultimate objective of this convoluted process the construction of a completely new high school?

January 8, 2003: Cost estimator report (01/06/03 Atkins Schematic Design Cost Estimate) for the project is $1.25 million over Flansburgh's "in house" estimate. According to the architect, that increase could possibly be absorbed by the construction contingency or a trimming of the project (a size reduction or downgrading of materials). Not to worry yet... $5.6 million of Option 3 is tied to the athletic fields and could easily be deleted. Including extras in the overall cost of a school project is a common method of providing "wiggle room" and, according to the Boston Society of Architects, athletic fields and grounds (non-State reimbursable) is the most common category for deletion when project costs are greater than anticipated. FAI is looking to use "wiggle room" already, when the project has not even reached the voters yet? What is the true cost of Option 3 going to be?

In the event that Option 3 is not passed at the February 25 election, Flansburgh & Associates has created a 01/08/03 list,"The Cost of Doing Nothing" which prioritizes what at RMHS "Must be done", "Should be done" and is "Recommended." The top five of the "Must be done" list at $685,000 were: replace the field house floor, replace the track, reconfigure lower parking and mark a pedestrian route, replace fencing around the football field, replace tennis court surface and basketball court. What? These are Flansburgh's top priorities for RMHS?

Near the bottom of the "Should be done" list for $800,000 were: replace fire alarm system, clock system and telephone ($600,000), replace the emergency generator and modify emergency power distribution ($200,000). These items were originally listed to be addressed in 1998 through a 03/06/97 $1.85 million Town Meeting appropriation but school administration apparently did not use the funds for that purpose. These maintenance and repair issues cry out for attention.

Under "Recommended", the lowest category, was replacement of windows throughout the school and field house ($1.2 million). Second to last was to "install sprinkler unit substations" ($700,000) and the finale: only $500,000 to replace the remaining roofs. Much already replaced RMHS roofing will be torn down (1997 roof video) in Option 3.

If these Flansburgh priorities represent the "cost of doing nothing," how can anyone justify the expenditure of $54 million to demolish 2/3 of the existing structurally sound RMHS facility, gut the remainder and build a new 4-story classroom structure? Who really benefits from this??


Please right-click, "Save Target As" to download the linked files on this page.

First Feasibility Study, Feb. 21, 1997 by Drummey, Rosane and Anderson (DRA) - [.pdf download, 3.57 MB]

Second Feasibility Study, April 13, 2000 - Strekalovsky and Hoit's space needs study. [.pdf download, 6.30 MB] Joint School Committee / Building Committee Minutes, 09/28/99 - see pages 2 through 4 for an overview of RMHS options.

Third Feasiblity Study Plus Schematic Design - Flansburgh's 10/08/02 review of existing conditions report. [.pdf download, 11.5 MB] Contract for the third Feasibility Study plus schematic design.