Frequently Asked Questions School Planning Committee

MSBA Center School Project – Easton Early Elementary School Project

Note – Italics Sections represent the “short answer”.

What is the Center School Project?

The Easton Center School Project refers to the invitation from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to participate in their Core Building Program, which provides funding for school building projects in districts throughout the state. Below is a flow chart from the MSBA website http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/building that highlights the steps of the project for Easton:

The MSBA has prepared detailed modules that outline the process and policies for each step mentioned above. For an overview of these modules please visit: http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/building/modules_overview

I hear this Project referred to in several ways? What is it called?

The MSBA refers to this project as the “Center School Project”. All official submissions to the MSBA must reference the Center School Project. However, one of the first decisions made by the Educational Leadership Team and School Planning Committee was to rebrand the project to better reflect the opportunity that is presented through this process. In communication about the project with the community of Easton, the project will be called the Easton Early Elementary School Project

What is the MSBA?

From the MSBA website: “The Massachusetts School Building Authority ("MSBA") is a quasi-independent government authority created to reform the process of funding capital improvement projects in the Commonwealth’s public schools. The MSBA strives to work with local communities to create affordable, sustainable, and energy efficient schools across Massachusetts.”

The MSBA, which has a dedicated revenue stream to support its work, collaborates with municipalities to “equitably invest in finding the right-sized, most fiscally responsible and educationally appropriate solutions to create safe, sound, and sustainable learning environments.”

In its ten-year history, the MSBA has funded more than $12.8 billion in reimbursements to cities, towns, and regional school districts for school construction projects. Instead of waiting years for reimbursement, districts now receive payments from the MSBA as costs are incurred, usually within 15 days of submission.

What is the School Building/Planning Committee?

The MSBA requires that local communities have a School Building Committee, defined from Massachusetts statute, 963CMR:2.10, Paragraph (3) “for the purpose of generally monitoring the Application process and to advise the Eligible Applicant during the construction of the approved project.”

By Special Town Meeting vote in November 1998, Easton established two different committees who have oversight responsibility for school building projects during specific time periods of the project. These committees are the School Planning Committee and the Municipal Building Committee. The School Planning Committee will work with the District leaders, the Town Administration, and the MSBA to oversee the project through all the MSBA required modules. http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/building/modules_overview Easton’s School Planning Committee meets all the membership requirements of the MSBA required School Building Committee. From Town Meeting vote, Article 15, in November of 1998, “Voted to establish a school planning committee… to recommend sites for new school facilities, to determine school program requirements, to select an architect, to work with the architect to develop building plans up to the design development stage, to prepare articles and presentations for town meeting and the public in support of school building projects, and to coordinate with the Municipal Building Committee.”

The members of the School Planning Committee are listed on the "Related Documents" page of this website.

What is the MSBA reimbursement rate for eligible project costs? What items are ineligible for reimbursement?

To be clear, the MSBA does not provide 100% reimbursement for building projects. However, the reimbursement from the MSBA significantly lowers the tax burden on communities and allows them to complete projects within a more bearable cost structure. When the Town entered the feasibility and schematic design phase of the project, the MSBA awarded the Town a projected reimbursement rate at 52.26% for eligible project costs.

Reimbursement rates are calculated by starting with a minimum standard percent (31%) as defined by the MSBA; additional criteria such as the District’s income factor and property wealth factor will be calculated and impacts the 31% minimum standard.

Throughout the Feasibility and Schematic Design phases of the project, the MSBA reimbursed the District at the rate of 52.26%. However, that reimbursement rate increased when the project entered the construction phase. The MSBA has awarded the District an additional 3.67% percentage points for our Maintenance plan and for energy efficiencies ("Green Schools") in the design of the new building.

The total 55.93% base reimbursement rate applies to ‘eligible’ project costs only, which are the costs for the core education program. Examples of ineligible costs include abatement of vinyl asbestos tile, moving costs, swing space, and soft costs more than 20% of construction cost. The effective reimbursement rate (net of ineligible costs) is approximately 38%.

What is the role of the Designer/Architect? Who was selected as our Designer/Architect?

The Designer is primarily responsible for working with the District to complete all the objectives outlined in the Feasibility and Schematic Design phase of the project. The selection of a Designer must follow a specific process as outlined by the MSBA. The MSBA Designer Selection Panel (DSP) has jurisdiction over the procurement of designers. The DSP includes 13 representatives appointed by the MSBA and 3 representatives from the Town. At the MSBA’s Designer Selection Panel meeting on August 21, 2018, Perkins Eastman was selected as the Designer for the Town of Easton. The contract with Perkins Eastman was authorized for execution by the Board of Selectman on September 24, 2018.

What is the role of Owner's Project Manager? Who was selected as our Owner's Project Manager?

The Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) provides project management services to an Owner throughout the life of the Project. Consequently, an Owner will work closely with its OPM from the earliest stages of the project through the project’s completion. The selection of a qualified OPM is one of the most important decisions an Owner will make to the project as the OPM has extensive experience on MSBA projects. In the late winter of 2018, the School Planning Committee formed a Procurement Subcommittee. It was this committee’s responsibility to follow the MSBA’s defined process to select the OPM and to recommend an OPM to the full School Planning Committee which, in turn recommended our selection to the MSBA Owner’s Project Manager Selection Panel. In May of 2018, the School Planning Committee voted to recommend PMA Consultants to the MSBA’s Owner’s Project Manager Selection Panel for approval. On June 4, 2018, the MSBA approved our selection of PMA as our Owner’s Project Manager. After this approval, the Board of Selectman authorized execution of the contract for services with PMA.

Does the Town need to borrow the entirety of the estimated project cost? If so, what happens to the reimbursement payments from the MSBA, where does that money go?

While Easton voted to authorize the full project value, the Town does not need to borrow the full amount for the project - just the anticipated district share. Reimbursements of eligible costs are made by the MSBA monthly. Upon completion of the schematic estimate reconciliation process, a comprehensive cash flow projection was developed by the Owner’s Project Manager which forecasts the anticipated district’s out of pocket expenses at any given point in time. This cash flow projection can then be utilized to limit borrowing to only what is absolutely necessary to keep the project moving along, thus keeping borrowing charges to a minimum. It should be noted that all of the funding for this project will move in and out of the Town, via the Town Accountant’s office, with significant oversight and structure provided from the MSBA. None of this money will be available to either the Town or the School District’s operational budgets.

How will the current Parkview or Center School Site will accommodate an increase in traffic resulting if a combined enrollment solution be chosen for that site.

During Feasibility study, all impacts to the potential site are considered – neighborhood impacts, current site use impacts, and traffic impacts. One of the most compelling reasons for the selection of Perkins Eastman as the Designer was due to their focus on traffic issues and the presentations made by the traffic engineer, Tighe and Bond.

Initial findings of the two sites (Center and Parkview) provided important information. First, the Center School site could not adequately handle the traffic and parking for a District wide building; many of the limitations could not be resolved through a design solution. Second, there did not seem to be any similar limitations presented with a consolidated District wide building on the Parkview site.

Before any final decision was made regarding the Parkview site, Tighe and Bond completed a detailed 10 week transportation and traffic study. The results of this study indicated that the Parkveiw site could accommodate the additional student related traffic from Moreau Hall and Center school students. In fact, the travel to/from times of day for that school is not a critical peak period from a campus traffic impact point of view. However, this analysis did note that the School Complex would benefit from multiple convenient vehicle egress points to the area roadway network. As part of the conceptual design plan, the potential for a new north-south road that connects Columbus Avenue and Lothrop Street was explored. It was determined that a new roadway provides a significant opportunity to address many of the current traffic concerns of the entire campus. The results of the 10 week traffic study clearly indicated that the Parkview site did not present any significant or unsolvable traffic impacts.

Can you explain how this design will be geared to small children?

Easton prides itself on the small learning communities which our current primary schools provide for our youngest students. In its earliest meetings, the School Planning Committee identified this consideration as one of the highest priorities for any building design. Any building design must create and maintain a small community feel within a larger building. As work has progressed, our designers have done a remarkable job in both the programming and design elements to address these issues and eliminate our concerns. Among the many things which have already been determined:

● The structure of the building is scaled appropriately. Elements such as lower roof lines and entrances, low sight lines for children, small spaces for students to crawl and sit in, “meandering” hallways with educational artifacts and designs along the way, two smaller cafeteria’s vs. one large, cavernous space, separate bus and parent drop-offs, etc. all contribute to a building that is age appropriate for our youngest learners.

● Grade bands have been purposefully positioned. Pre-K and K are on the first floor and separated by different wings. Grades 1 and 2 are on the second floor. Classroom neighborhoods have been established so that only 4 or 5 classrooms are in sight of one another for easy collaboration but manageable sight lines, etc.

● A focus on programming and culture to ensure a welcoming and integrated educational environment. Our Pre-K through 2 principals have already spent the last few years coming together for consistency in areas such as combined staff meetings, grade level unit writing, combined School Council meetings, shared School Improvement plans and goals, shared resources and content area programs, shared professional development, processes, and procedures, etc. This work will continue as we the project moves forward.

How was the correct number of parking spaces determined for the one District wide school at the Parkview site?

The project team includes both landscape architects and traffic engineers. At the three elementary schools now, we have a combined total of 210 parking spaces, as follows:

Center School - 60 spaces

Moreau Hall - 60 spaces

Parkview Elementary - 90 spaces

The basic formula that the team first used on the project was based on the Town’s ordinance and zoning requirements which are “two spaces per classroom in elementary and junior high schools; 4 per classroom in a senior high school plus one space for every 10 seats of total seating capacity in an auditorium or gymnasium, whichever has the larger capacity”.

The current design plan has 50 classrooms which require 100 parking spaces and a 900 person capacity in the gymnasium which requires 90 parking spaces. Therefore 190 spaces would meet the zoning by-laws.

The designers continued to modify the plan. There are 195 spaces in the most recent design iteration (August 2019), with a goal of 204 parking spaces. Zoning Boards generally do not allow projects proposing excessive parking above and beyond the requirements.

Will this building allow for enrollment growth? How was the enrollment number determined?

The combined District Wide building is designed for an enrollment of 760 K - 2 students. In addition, this building will also accommodate 120 Pre-K students for a total enrollment of 880 students. Currently our K - 2 population is approximately 715 students with a Pre-K enrollment of 73 students (these numbers can change on a daily basis). Our combined Pre-K through 2 enrollment is 788 students (again, with a plus or minus daily as children enroll in the District). There is capacity in the new building for about 12% growth.

The enrollment number for the new building is determined via the MSBA through a rigorous process which looks at a variety of factors such as, historical enrollment data, birth data and kindergarten enrollment data, upcoming housing development, and district class size policies. Here is a link from the MSBA which outlines their enrollment methodology. http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/building/prerequisites/enrollment_methodology

Will there be any operational savings once we open this new school (building savings or savings in staffing)?

We do anticipate savings in building operational costs. In addition to the elimination of the considerable repairs we do each year, there will be utility, facility, and environmental efficiencies we do not have now. We do expect that these will offer some relief in the District's annual operating budget.

Based on current educational conditions, we do not anticipate significant changes in staffing levels (whether more or less) when we open the new building. The new school is not scheduled for opening until 2023 and many changes occur in education based on the needs of our students in any given year. However, if we make the reasonable assumption that we will be serving the same number of students with similar needs (special education, English Language Learners, etc.), we will need the same number of staff.

Why is the building so large? What determines the size and design of a school building? Could we have built something less expensive with a different design plan, for example, straight, long hallways with no angles?

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) work closely with local School Districts on the design of all projects in their program. The size and design of a building, and subsequently, its costs are driven by two factors: the projected enrollment capacity the building must accommodate and the educational program which the District provides for its students. These two elements are both subject to MSBA and/or Department of Elementary and Secondary Education review and agreement before any thought of design can even begin.

The enrollment study is driven by the MSBA and based on a number of factors (birth and death rates, birth to kindergarten ratio, historical enrollment data, local issues that may impact enrollment figures). The design enrollment study is intended to ensure that the District can meet space capacity needs given that enrollment trends can vary over time. The new building will meet the needs of a K - 2 enrollment of 760 students. In addition, it will meet the needs of a PreK enrollment of an additional 115 students.

The next factor which drives building design is the District’s educational program. The MSBA requires the District to thoroughly document its educational program so that any building design is in response to the educational needs of the students in the District and so any building design has the flexibility to meet changes in programming and teaching pedagogy in the future. This document, coupled with specifications from the MSBA around classroom square footage requirements, STEM learning spaces, assembly spaces, break-out spaces, Special Education requirements, etc. informs the building design.

The new elementary school has a total square footage of 148,400 square feet. This includes 5500 square feet of Central Office space. The square footage of this building is strictly driven by the MSBA requirements around square footage of all spaces in the building. For example, classrooms must be specific square footage which varies depending on whether you are a PreK classroom, a Kindergarten classroom, or a Grade 1-2 classroom. The total square footage of this building is within all guidelines provided by the MSBA. In fact, the MSBA will not reimburse for space outside of those guidelines and their review of our building design did not identify any areas in our building (outside of Central Office and the Community Room) which exceeded their guidelines for reimbursement.

Further, the design of the building was specifically focused on the needs of our youngest learners, as documented in our Educational Program. Educating a PreK through grade 2 student is quite different than educating a 4th grader, a 6th grader, or a high school student. For example, all of the classrooms in the building are designed in pods of no more than 5 classrooms per pod. This is done to create a small community of learners which provides for a much improved educational experience for the students in those classrooms. In addition, each of those pods have embedded special education spaces and other breakout spaces. Again, these designs are in response to guidelines by the MSBA and DESE and meet the needs of the District’s Educational Program. If any District were to design a building that did not meet enrollment needs, educational program needs, or regulatory requirements, it is likely that the MSBA would not approve Grant funds for such a building. In order to remain eligible for $36M of State funding, certain criteria must be satisfied, one example being disbursement of special education spaces throughout each area of the building. Space size requirements must be strictly adhered to and the variation in space sizes generally restricts the design team’s ability to keep the building perfectly linear and rectangular. There is a great deal of complexity involved in the design of a school building - factors such as the complexity of vertical stacking, organizing classrooms based on grades, public vs. private spaces, security lock-off, adjacency requirements, flexibility of spaces, site constraints all contribute to design decisions.

In addition to educational programming needs, the proposed building layout is also informed by modern safety and security needs. Long linear hallways of older buildings provide little refuge in the event of an emergency. The same concept is applicable at the exterior of the building where obstructed sightlines can provide safety and shelter.

The School Planning Committee requested that the Project’s independent estimators specifically evaluate the additional cost resulting from the current building shape. PMA, the Owner's Project Manager, contacted the project estimator as well as an independent concrete manufacturer to determine any potential price differential due to the angled walls. The feedback from those estimators was a premium of approximately $70K, a relatively small cost with all factors considered. Upon review, PMA, requested an update to this number to include additional material waste that was not accounted for in the initial review. The total premium number was updated to $136,000 which accounted for both the additional cuts and materials waste.

However, this $136,000 in savings is completely offset by MSBA space requirements and reimbursements. The MSBA caps the amount of Square Footage allowable for reimbursement, any square footage above the cap is non-reimbursable. The plan of the building is optimized to meet the EXACT square footage requirements. Straightening out the building affects the 2nd floor plan where many of the smaller and varied size Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy spaces are adjacent to standard classrooms and would cause in increase in overall square footage; the building would no longer be optimized for reimbursement. If we add any more than 410 square feet to the building (via the "straightening out"), we erase any potential savings from the additional cuts and materials waste.

Why was Central Office Administration included in the new building?

The School Planning Committee, working with the Owner's Project Manager and Designer did a thorough analysis before including Central Office space as part of the project. In fact, much of these discussions were driven by feedback from our community specifically related to the on-going rental costs of Central Office space. The following factors were critical in this analysis:

  • Cost/Benefit of Staying in Rental Space

  • Cost/Benefit of Including Central Office in the Project

  • Other Options for Central Office

As of the September 2019 Schematic Design submission to the MSBA, the total Construction costs for Central Administration is $2,775,025. In addition, the soft costs associated with that portion of the project are $244,202 which brings the estimated total cost to the District for Central Office to $3,019,227.

In summary, the decision to include Central Office with the project was the most financially prudent choice, given the space requirements for Central Offices, given the uncertainty that comes with any lease agreement, given the cost and lack of alternatives of other space in Town, and, most importantly, given that within a relatively short period of time (approximately 15 years), the annual costs for the lease are greater than the annual costs of the bond for that portion of the building.

What is the Tax impact of the project?

For Questions or Comments about the Easton Early Elementary School Project