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Frequently Asked Questions
Why would anyone be opposed to Option 3, “renovating” Reading Memorial High School?
RMHS needs upgrading but this approximately $54 million Option 3 is neither a reasonable nor cost effective solution. Option 3 involves an approximately $2 million demolition of the entire original, structurally sound 1953 school (approx. 184,000 sq. ft., capacity 1,125 students) including the auditorium, cafeteria, classrooms, industrial/fine arts wing and gymnasium (Annual Town Report 1958, page 123). Option 3 also demolishes some of the 1969 addition (which had brought the capacity of RMHS to 2000 students, DRA Report, page 4) and guts the media center, lecture hall, field house and math and science building. A new 4-story facility would be constructed between the Superintendent’s Office and the Hawkes Field House to replace the original 1953 school.
Dedicated to the memory of World War II veterans, RMHS and its Memorial Tower will be gone if Option 3 succeeds. The 1997 Drummey, Rosane & Anderson (DRA) Feasibility Study established that the high school is structurally sound and suggested areas to be addressed, in order of necessity. Over $2.2 million has already been spent on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems alone to address some of DRA's recommendations. That investment also would be lost with Option 3 demolition and gutting (SC minutes, 09/28/99 page 3, Harutunian / Klepeis memo 10/17/97).
Contrary to statements that excess space can be found in the corridors, extra stairways and under-utilized spaces of RMHS, the vast majority of the excess space is actually located in community use spaces: the auditorium, cafeteria, media center/library, field house as well as classrooms (DRA report, page 22, NEASC 1993 Facilities Report). With Option 3, the community will lose this space, at a premium in other communities, in spite of the fact that the state has indicated that assistance could be provided to renovate these existing spaces. (SBA Lynch letter 10/01/01, page 2) In total, approximately 194,000 sq. ft. of the existing RMHS facility (100% of the 1953 building and 6% of the 1969 addition) will disappear with Option 3. If demolished, Reading will never be able to regain this premium space and its community use rental income.
The drawings and sketches of Option 3 are only concepts of what might be built, despite the $450,000 appropriation in April 2002 for schematic designs (Flansburgh's Bowen, SBC Chairman Graham, .mp3 audio, SBC 12/23/02). As occurred with the Parker and Coolidge Middle school projects, the final version of Option 3 will be very different from what the public has been shown to support this Feb. 25, 2003 debt exclusion. What you see is not what you will get.
Have any improvements been made to RMHS?
On April 14, 1997, Town Meeting appropriated $1.8 million
specifically to address RMHS mechanical, structural, safety and accreditation
minutes 05/01/97, page 2, Memo
03/06/97). Among the funds appropriated for work were: $100,000
for concrete column repair, $200,000 for upgrading science labs, $600,000
for Asbestos Abatement/HVAC upgrades and $100,000 for a Science Wing
roof. On Mar. 9, 1998, Town Meeting appropriated an additional $600,000
for RMHS boiler & burner replacement and asbestos removal (Harutunian
/ Klepeis memo 10/17/97).
New boilers were installed in 1995 and 1998 along with fifty-one (51) unit ventilators in the 1953 section of the facility.By August 26, 1998, Siebe Environmental Controls (now Invensys, 08/26/98 Siebe Memo) had completed the $271,080 installation of Network 8000, a computerized Energy Management system to address heat fluctuation complaints and to reduce oil consumption (TM Warrant, Article 7, 03/09/98, Harutunian .mp3 audio 01/08/03).
Local Area Network (LAN) computer wiring throughout RMHS was completed in Oct. 1998 (Marion memo, 08/27/98). Though $50,000 was appropriated for the intercom system, only $13,079 was spent. In 1999, Walkie-Talkies (School Committee minutes 09/28/99, page 5) were purchased for approximately $11,000 to enhance communication within the high school, particularly for emergencies. Also, $50,000 was appropriated for making auditorium, special ed and field house restroom facilities American Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible (03/06/97 RMHS $1.8 million). For September 1999, almost all the lockers used by students had been painted inside and out, with the infamous "orange locker area completely closed off from use." A new computer lab was added along with new computers in classrooms and increased internet capabilities (Chronicle 09/99). In 2000, the field house interior was painted, lockers were repaired and purchased, and a new track record board given in memory of Jay Jellison through donations. Much of this would be lost when the field house is gutted as part of Option 3.
Unlike the annual School Budget for which Town Meeting votes only the total, the $1.8 million in appropriations was designated for a specific purpose. Misuse of this funding for purposes other than Town Meeting had intended would constitute a misappropriation of funds, an illegal activity.
What about the Title 9 (equal athletic facilities) issue at RMHS?
There is no Title 9 “issue.” Even the most recent Flansburgh (FAI) Study indicates that Reading’s Physical Education programs have enough space within the existing gymnasium (formerly known as the “Girl’s Gym”) and adjoining locker rooms to meet current state standards for the number of students expected and required to take PE. The two previous RMHS feasibility studies, 1997 Drummey, Rosane & Anderson (DRA) and 2000 Strekalovsky & Hoit (S&H) concur. 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” and not a “space” issue. School administration easily could divide the lockers in both the main building and the Field House more equitably (DRA report, page 50, 53, 66, 67). Flansburgh Associates own 06/17/02 RMHS Meeting Notes Summary, page 3, states: "Use of the existing Gym for PE and the construction of boys' lockers on the first floor would address Title IX issues for physical education."
In Flansburgh 2002 Options 1 and 2, there are no athletics related additions to the building. The Field House would only be needed for extracurricular sports and community use, not the Physical Education program. Because Option 3 demolishes the existing gymnasium and lockers, Option 3 requires an addition to the Field House for Physical Education program lockers. Option 3 divides equally the existing Field House lockers for after-school sports, half to boys and half to girls, something that should have been done earlier. Option 3 also cuts down on community use because the old gymnasium will no longer exist and space at the Field House will be at a premium. Currently, the “Girls' Gym” is heavily used and “finishes are in good and serviceable condition.” (FAI Existing Conditions Report, III-6 b.) What is really at issue here? Who stands to benefit when Reading tears down a perfectly good facility?
What about the accessibility issues?
As students with disabilities have attended the high school, modifications have been made, such as a handicapped accessible bathroom in the nurse/administrative area and Field House and earlier chair lifts near the gymnasium and the industrial/fine arts wings. Clearly, changes to address ADA requirements must be made but the solution is not to demolish over half (approx. 194,000 sq. ft.) of the existing structurally sound facility and construct a new 4-story building. Even newly constructed schools can fail to adequately address ADA requirements, as demonstrated by the" kivas"(sunken instructional areas) and auditorium in the Flansburgh designed Ipswich Middle / High School. This project triggered an advisory from Massachusetts Attorney General in November 2001 (Advisory 11/30/01, AG Ipswich article, photos).
What is the status of RMHS accreditation?
According to the agency’s 5 year progress report, New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) was particularly pleased with Reading’s plans to complete the upgrades of science labs by summer 1998 (Reading Advocate, Summer 1998). Reading is a volunteer member of this association and is up for accreditation by the independent non-profit NEASC in Fall 2003. Much of the process involves self-review by Reading staff in areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, leadership, school and community resources and facilities. Visiting teams, comprised of participants from NEASC member schools, then validate staff and administration concerns/wants in a written report that is often used to foster community support for more resources, funding etc. No high school has ever lost its accreditation solely based upon the physical condition of its facility (See: School Facilities Standard, NEASC 1993 Reading report, 12/18/02 Salem News article).
Can we afford Option 3?
No! On February 11,2003, the State put a moratorium on all school projects not yet on the reimbursement list. Reading's 12/01/02 SBA RMHS Submission packet notify's School Building Assistance of Reading's "intent" to file plans June 30, 2003 for renovationconstruction of Reading Memorial High School (see Architect Peirce: Letter of Intent, p. 8 in 12/02/02 packet). The RMHS project is not "already on" the approved reimbursement list. Even Reading's unjustifiable elementary projects now face a long wait for reimbursement funding, with billions of dollars of school projects waiting for State funding ahead of them (Boston Herald, State Halts Funding for School Construction, Herald article as downloadable .pdf file).
Reading’s bond rating also has dropped again, which translates to higher borrowing costs. Reading has not been “promised” a specific reimbursement rate and Reading may not know if Option 3 is approvable for reimbursement by the Massachusetts School Building Assistance (SBA) until after the February 25, 2003 Special Election (SBA Lynch 11/14/02 letter – might be approvable). The financial condition of the State leaves Reading’s temporary borrowing responsibility uncertain (SBA Advisory 02-2, 05/31/02). At current projections, the State would not start its 20 year payback share of the project for at least 17 years. Reading taxpayers would have to foot the entire cost of the RMHS project for that 17 year period, easily doubling the impact of the cost to the taxpayers.
Even in 1998, serious questions were raised about Reading's ability to pay for the Barrows renovation and the new elementary school without an override (VanMagness Town Meeting 12/07/98). When first bid out in 2000, the new elementary school came in approximately $1-2 million over estimated cost. New bids on the new elementary school now are due by Feb. 25, 2003, the day of the Special Election for the increase over the original estimate (Central Register Posting 01/29/03). Since there was no override or debt exclusion for the new elementary school, no one knows where in Reading's operating budget the $9 million.
Both the new elementary school and the Barrows elementary projects combined are now approximately $33 million, including interest. If Reading has to pay the total elementary school costs, without timely State two thirds reimbrusement, the Reading debt considering the RMHS project and the current $37.7 million already borrowed for school projects (incurred without an override or debt exclusion) could exceed $100 million!!!
At a projected cost of $54,305,000, the Reading Memorial High School Option 3 is far more expensive than necessary. The School Building Committee did not present for public discussion any options advocating simply the basic repair and renovation of existing RMHS facilities. Even FAI Option 1, supposedly a complete renovation of the existing building, still involved major reconfiguration of the school’s interior, gutting of the auditorium, moving the cafeteria, art and music to another locations in the facility. Option 3 addresses the “wants” of some but neglects the “needs” of the majority in the community.
A better solution would be to look back at the two prior feasibility studies, as voters thought would occur when the $450,000 was approved to create a schematic option from the best of those two studies. The 1997 DRA Feasibility Study more reasonably describes specific areas of the high school that need to be addressed or will need to be repaired soon. Considering the fiscal condition of the Town and the State, Reading should be looking at what it really needs and can afford, not what an architect or school administrator tells us we should want.
By spending $54 million now to build a smaller facility, won’t we save money in the long run?
Even Flansburgh’s Sid Bowen and members of the School Building Committee who are experts in architecture and HVAC have stated that, despite a reduction in building size, Reading should not necessarily expect a reduction in custodial costs and maintenance (SBC Orlando, Bowen 11/06/02 .mp3 audio). Regardless of the amount of insulation in the ceilings and walls or the age of the building, state ventilation requirements specify classroom fresh air exchanges. Whether a new or refurbished older building, the same amount of cold air must be drawn in, heated and circulated in the classroom.
State-of-the-art systems (lighting, heating, security, fire, communication) require specialized knowledge to maintain and, since Reading’s Director of Facilities lacks expert credentials and training, Reading will need to continue to contract out for expensive oversight of the systems. As well, RMHS is scheduled to change from cheaper oil to gas heat, despite former Reading Facilities Director Bandini's (01/97-09/97) experience that gas will be more expensive. While the maintenance cost of gas systems may be slightly cheaper, the increased danger and higher cost of gas fuel compared with either #4 or #2 fuel oil far surpasses any maintenance savings. Reading needs to reexamine School Committee's decision to convert all Reading Schools to gas by 2005 (Chronicle 10/13/00, Siebe (now Invensys) 07/13/98 Fossil Fuel study). "Do you smell gas? I think we should evacuate the building..."
Just on principle, isn’t “new” better than “old”?
New construction cannot easily compare with the quality of workmanship and materials used in the original 1953 school building. Communities that substitute cheaper materials (ie wallboard or wooden squares instead of tile, glazed brick or plaster in hallways and classrooms) in their school projects do so at their peril, long-term. If quality materials, durability and ease of maintenance are not a priority, Reading will be repairing and replacing this $54 million school project while still making the debt payments. This Option 3 is simply too extensive and expensive, destroying a quality facility in the process. Someone is benefiting from Option 3 but it certainly is not taxpayers, teachers or the children.
Please right-click, "Save Target As" to download the linked files on this page.
02/12/03 - (Boston Herald) State Halts Funding for School Construction - Reading has only filed a "letter of intent" on the Reading Memorial High School construction / "renovation" project. It is not "already on the list" for reimbursement.
RMHS Option 3 involves replacement of the football stadium with a new state-of-the-art multi-purpose stadium, the addition of locker rooms to the Field House and construction of two synthetic athletic fields. Why should we support this expense?
Is replacing the football stadium the best use of our limited funds? More than $5.9 million (of the approximately $54 million Option 3) is allotted for Site Utilities, Fields, Parking and Landscaping. The state will only reimburse for creation of athletic fields in new construction, not as part of renovations. Likewise additions to the Field House and stadiums likely would not be reimbursed (SBA Lynch 10/01/01 letter regarding renovation limitations, Atkins 01/06/03 cost estimate, SBA Audit Procedures - November 2001. p.5 - 6, Mass Ed Laws/ Regs. 603 CM38.05 Program Standards: Capital Construction. (1.)).
Recently developed in 1999, these synthetic playing fields are luxuries that may address a town wide “want” but not a school programmatic need. Geller Associates, RMHS project landscape architects, has a division, Geller Sports, which promotes synthetic fields. Unfortunately, synthetic fields are projected to require very expensive maintenance every 8-12 years and are so new that no substantive, expert data is available long term on field durability, maintenance and athlete injury rate. With so many questions unanswered, Reading should not invest its money in experimental materials, especially when grass fields already exist and professional sports organizations are themselves returning to grass as a playing surface. (Time Magazine 01/05/03, Globe NorthWest 12/22/02, Lexington article)
Click to enlarge.
School Committee 09/28/99: To improve communication at RMHS and at other schools, several walkie-talkies (see page 5) were purchased. Superintendent notes that the "new walkie-talkie communication system was instrumental recently in getting the fire department, police department and an ambulance to the high school swiftly."