By Julie McCay Turner
The Bedford School Committee voted to endorse the Davis School Building Committee’s proposal for a significant expansion of the school as part of an overall plan that would affect Davis, the John Glenn Middle School, and Bedford High School over the next five years.
In a unanimous decision by the four members present at their August 29 meeting, the School Committee approved preparation of an article for Special Town Meeting on November 6that would fund design and construction documents for the Davis expansion, with an article for the balance of the construction project funded as part of the Warrant for Annual Town Meeting in March 2018.
Justin Humphreys of TBA Architects, the firm that recently completed the successful Lane School expansion and renovation, which came in on time and under budget, worked with the Davis School Building Committee to develop and present the overall proposal under consideration.
After evaluating more than a dozen options – from looking at each of the three schools as a standalone project, through various combinations of adaptive reuse and new construction – the chosen scenario offers the Building Committee both an attractive programmatic proposal and reasonable cost.
By combining renovations and new construction in a $12,920,000proposal for Davis School, the integrated yet staged approach would increase the school’s capacity to 10 classrooms each for kindergarten, first, and second grade, while eliminating its modular classrooms. The scenario would also move the preschool from BHS to Davis, creating programmatic synergies for Bedford’s youngest students as they move into elementary school, as well as opening up space that would create four contiguous classrooms at the high school.
In three years, the JGMS component would add four middle school classrooms in a two-story addition tucked into a corner between two wings of the current building. The projected JGMS budget is $3,770,000. Then in five years, interior renovations at BHS would accommodate the increased number of students moving through the system at an approximate cost of $1,300,000. Cost estimates for future phases of the project are already adjusted for inflation at three and five years out.
To avoid needing to come back for additional space at Davis, Superintendent Jon Sills called the suggested scenario “prudent,” given recent enrollment study projections and this year’s larger-than-anticipated influx of new students.
Moving the preschool to Davis with the CASE Collaborative remaining at BHS preserves at least part of the Early Childhood program and its BHS interns. School Committee member Ann Guay questioned the implications of moving the preschool because of the inclusive peer-to-peer opportunities with CASE students. Humphreys suggested that eventually, it might be possible to accommodate CASE in the expanded Davis building.
School Committee member JoAnn Santiago clarified that while there are system-wide implications of the plan, the only element under current consideration is expansion at Davis School Principal Beth Benoit noted that Davis class size is increasing, with more students moving into Bedford than are moving out to balance new arrivals.
Increased concerns about space at JGMS were voiced by Dan Brosgol. “My worries are more about JGMS, now that I think about it,” he said, citing increased class sizes, even before the elementary school bubble hits. “Is four [new classrooms at JGMS] really enough?”
Superintendent Sills replied that the pace of the future projects might need to be advanced, given current/projected middle school enrollment and nearly full capacity for program space at the high school.
School Committee chair Michael McAllister noted during the meeting that the proposal under consideration is more ‘shovel-ready’ than other Town building projects on the horizon and that there could be a benefit to front-loading the overall project costs with the $12.3M Davis project coming to a vote at Annual Town Meeting in March.
McAllister expects that a lot of ‘back-of-the-envelope’ number crunching will take place among the community since the cost of public school construction has risen substantially in the short time since the Lane School project began. Humphreys pointed to, among other things, the increased cost of hiring good crews when there are more available projects than workers.
“As School Committee members we wear two hats,” wrote McAllister in an email after the meeting.“We all joined School Committee because we believe in the mission of the schools and want to advocate for students and their teachers. On the other hand, we understand that we are elected by the citizens of Bedford, so it is also our responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent carefully. This is the reason we ask so many questions when we are faced with an important proposal such as this.”
About the Davis School Building Committee: Chaired by Bedford School Superintendent Jon Sills, the Davis School Building Committee includes Town Facilities Director Taissir Alani;School Department Finance Director David Coelho; Davis School Principal Beth Benoit;School Committee member JoAnn Santiago;Selectman Liaison and former School Committee member Ed Pierce; Planning Board member Jeffrey Cohen;Zoning Board of Appeals members Jeff Dearing and Angelo Colasante;Capital Expenditure Committee member James O’Neil; Assistant Town Manager Mike Rosen; architect Justin Humphreys;School Department Administrative Assistant Sandra McNutt; along with members Nina Tate, Xue Wang, Maurizio Salato, Robert Jefferies, and Kyle Smith.