Posted on

Medford board moves toward a proposed renovation plan for MASH

Medford board moves toward a proposed renovation plan for MASH Medford board moves toward a proposed renovation plan for MASH

The Medford School Board Monday unanimously settled on a preferred option for a potential building project at Medford Area Senior High (MASH) that could go to referendum as soon as November.

Option “6B” emerged as the one that best balanced needs, wants and cost during a lengthy discussion at Monday’s board meeting. Monday’s discussion came just five days after a special workshop session the board held with architects and engineers from Plunkett Rayisch Architects and J.H. Findorff & Son, the district’s construction manager for the potential project.

At that June 17 workshop, Option 6 emerged as a favorite, but the cost estimate was higher than the board was looking for. PRA/Findorff representatives came back Monday via videoconference with four variations to Option 6 that shaved the estimate from $43.7 million to a range of $41.6 million to $37.2 million.

As presented Monday, Option 6B has an estimated cost of $40.1 million. The board’s intention wasn’t to approve a cost yet, but a floor plan. Dollar amounts for a referendum are expected to be discussed further at next month’s board meeting.

Based on results of a survey completed this spring by more than 1,000 district residents, the board and district administrator Pat Sullivan believe the price tag voters may be willing to support is somewhere between $35 and $45 million, but the emphasis is try to cap it at $40 million.

The key pieces to the proposed construction project are a general classroom addition to the southeast corner of the current building; a science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) addition on the north side near the current tech ed building; a renovated and more secure main office area; improvements to the kitchen/cafeteria area and additions of a new one-station gymnasium and Red-White Theater on the building’s west end. The current Red-White Theater would be renovated to expand library space and create additional collaboration spaces.

Options 6A, 6B, 6C and 6D presented Monday all offered tweaks that cut $900,000 off the price of the kitchen/cafeteria addition to an estimated $1.7 million and $300,000 off the STEAM addition to an estimated $2.9 million. Removing islands and some curb and gutter on revised parking lots in the front and back of the building cut another $1.3 million from the site work in the proposed project.

The options then varied as to how much work would go into the gym and theater additions.

In 6B, the one-station gymnasium would be built without locker rooms at an estimated cost of $5.4 million while the theater addition loses initial plans for a pit orchestra area and a fly system to accommodate sets above the stage. Those modifications drop the estimated cost to about $7.8 million from a potential cost of over $11 million had the full wish list stayed in place.

Option 6D called for just a $1.3 million renovation of the current Red-White Theater, but a two-station gymnasium with lockers that could be built for an estimated $9.6 million. “I’m not in favor of renovating the Red-White room,” board member Barb Knight said. “We’re not going to gain anything from it. New seats don’t make it better.”

The rest of the board agreed a simple renovation of the theater wouldn’t suffi ce, which meant giving something up when it comes to the gymnasium. The vision for the gym is to be an additional practice space, a physical education space and a game space for freshman games and youth tournaments.

“When you’re talking about gym space, I’m reluctant to call it a practice court because the intent isn’t just to have it for practice,” said board member Cheryl Wibben, who made the motion to go with 6B. “We want to use it for games even though it’s not going to have bleachers we’re still going to have seating for games, we’re going to use it for games. We’re going to use it for tournaments with our youth programs so calling it a practice gym can be misconstrued. I guess I don’t like that term.”

Board member Paul Dixon said the thing he liked about the option was that both additions would be easily accessible from the west side with separate entrances.

“6B gets you an addition and that will give us direct outside access so that these can become much more public places within the school’s system than they are now because they’re both kinda landlocked inside the building,” Dixon said.

“We’re talking about $7.8 million under 6B for the library and the theater when that was the lowest (funding priority) on our survey among all residents,” board member Brian Hallgren said, adding that he loved being in theater in high school just as much as being in sports. “And then we’re only spending $5.4 million on the gym. I say $5.4, that’s a lot of money and I probably shouldn’t say only, but we’re spending $2.4 million more on a theater and library combination than we are on a gym when that was lower than the gym in our survey. That’s what I’m struggling with a little bit.”

Hallgren said the district made a mistake in 1999 when it didn’t fit a new gym space into the middle school addition that was passed at that time.

“I struggle with that one-station gym and I certainly struggle with no stations,” he said. “Maybe one (station) is the compromise, but I’m struggling with that based on what we’re doing with the theater and the library.”

“6B may be your best option for something from each category and still staying close,” board president Dave Fleegel said. “You’re right at that threshold.”

Board member John Zuleger said shaving just another $200,000 off of the project and putting an estimated cost of $39.9 million on the total price tag could be a huge advantage.

“Don’t you think that maybe if you could get this to $39.9 million, there’s a difference in people’s minds?” he said. “There’s a difference between $39.9 and $40.1. It’s just how it is. You see that all the time.”

While there is no requirement for a referendum to be on the November ballot, Fleegel said it’s important for that to happen. Being a presidential election year, voters are expected to be out in full force and the board would get the truest sense of whether a major high school renovation project is supported.

“(Cost) is a number you’ll have to decide next month to be all in on trying to stay on schedule,” Fleegel said. “That doesn’t mean we have to stay on schedule. This board can decide to do something different. But we have an obligation to follow this through and let the people decide in November.”

“I do think we’ve got to stay at that $40 million or just under it,” Hallgren said. “I think that’s important because otherwise if it doesn’t pass we’re going to question whether that was really the issue. I think that’s important. I think we can make that happen.”

Wellness program supported

The other notable action taken by the board Monday was an 8-1 vote in support of the district’s wellness program. Dixon made the motion to continue it as is.

The dissenting vote came from Hallgren, who questioned if the program’s $52,000 annual cost to the district and wanted data to support it.

The goal of the wellness program is to encourage employees take responsibility for their health and well-being. Meeting program incentives can reduce insurance costs for those who participate and preventative care is hoped to reduce annual health insurance claims.

“The biometric numbers over the last years have kind of supported the return on investment or the benefi t of a wellness program,” program coordinator Patrick Somsen said. “Nationally, you probably all know this. The United States is not a very healthy nation. A lot of the numbers are staggeringly increasing, for example rates of obesity, things like that. Biometric numbers would show the MAPS wellness program participants are seeing the opposite in a lot of areas.”

“I want to support wellness for our people, but it’s pretty tough for me to say we’re going to spend 52 grand, no offense Patrick, but 52 grand on a wellness program when we can’t tie data to it,” Hallgren said. “Should we even be doing that? If I owned a company and I want to supply a wellness program, it’s happy days, that’s my decision as the owner. But we’re sitting here as a tax collecting entity. Should that even be our role?”

“I don’t care if it’s a public entity, we’re competing for teachers here,” Knight said. “We’re always told we’re supposed to run like a business even though that’s really not how our revenue stream works. We’re still competing with other districts for our staff. This is part of retention. This is part of the package we need to be able to offer people and I don’t think $50,000 is such a huge number in the grand scheme of things.”

Somsen provided statistics from the Wellness Council of America that documented average savings for people who improve their blood pressure risk is $1,378 per year, obesity improvements save $1,090 per year per person and improving diabetes saves $1,600 and his supervisor calculated that to be a $68,000 savings for the Medford Area Public Schools program based on its biometrics results.