Farmington continues planning for new high school project
Plans call for potential demolition of iconic 1928 building
By Ted Glanzer
FARMINGTON – Plans for the construction of a new high school call for the demolition of the 1928 high school building, unless voters approve an injection of at least $1 million to $9.8 million to preserve the iconic building.
The Farmington High School Building Committee unveiled plans for the new high school at the Town Council’s meeting on Jan. 19.
The plan for the new school call for the construction of a three-story, $137.3 million building, adjusted down to a cost of $109.8 million to the town after 20% reimbursement from the state, on the footprint of the current school, according to Mark Grillis of Construction Solutions Group.
The adjusted cost is within the $105 million to $110 million target the Town Council set for the committee before the project was put on a pause as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The building committee in January 2020 presented plans Farmington Building Committee unanimously voted to recommend to the town council the construction of a new high school building for $142 million.
Superintendent of Schools Kathy Greider said the new building addresses educational, programming, learning and economic issues at the current high school by increasing the number of classes, promoting collaborative work spaces, and expanding the space of the undersized library and cafeteria.
The new building also is fully inclusive and accessible, notably in the music, library, weight rooms, auditorium and outdoor athletic facilities.; the current building has for years had multiple areas that do not meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Greider said.
Furthermore, Greider noted the new building would also eliminate the annual drain of the town’s financial resources. The town consistently spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on patching up the current building through the capital projects budget, Greider noted.
This year the schools will request another significant capital expenditure to yet again fix the high school roof.
“The new schematic mirrors the needs of our students today and in the future to maximize learning and success,” she said.
The new high school project would have to be approved by town voters at a referendum.
In 2017, a referendum for the construction of a new high school failed by a 2-to-1 margin.
Officials have said the current building, which has been expanded six times since the original construction in 1928, has numerous issues that need to be addressed.
Ryszard Szcapek, of the architecture firm TSKP Studio, said construction on the current footprint would maximize space while causing the least disruption to learning.
The 900-wing of the building would be incorporated into the new building, and other amenities would be preserved, including the football field.
Szcapek said new HVAC systems would be included in the project and the materials proposed for construction are durable and easy to maintain.
“This new facility is progressive, efficient and safe and will advance the educational and community growth of Farmington,” building committee Chairman Meghan Guerrera said.
There are items that weren’t included in the project, but could be put back in if savings were realized, such as using stone in lieu of masonry in the exterior of the new building ($541,000), a softball field ($275,000), additional furniture ($420,000) and a motorized partition between the gyms ($90,000).
Items excluded altogether from the project include the mothballing ($1 million) or renovation ($9.8 million) of the 1928 building, additional energy saving initiatives ($676,000), a net-zero physical plan ($9.1 million) and Route 4 improvements ($763,000).
Councilors praised the building committee and the professionals in getting the project within the cost range set by the Town Council.
Councilor Chris Fagan, who has served as the chairman of the Board of Education, said the project “needs to get done,” particularly in light of the six-figure repairs that are done annually at the current building.
Fagan also asked more about the 1928 building, what mothballing the building would result in, versus renovating or demolishing it.
“The 1928 building is an emotional issue; everyone loves the building,” Szcapek acknowledged. “I realize that’s a sensitive subject. ... Members of the public would like to see it preserved and possibly reused. If you want to mothball it, there is a cost associated with that - $1 million to make it safe to prevent it from further [erosion]. That’s the net cost in saving money from the demolition in the budget and adding money to do some improvements to make it watertight and some ventilation.”
“Is mothballing enough? Maybe for some it’s not, and they want to see it renovated for future use.”
Szceapek said if the building were to be converted to town offices or for tenants, it would cost about $9.8 million.
“We struggled with this question. Getting rid of it is difficult for some people. On other hand the school has no use for it in satisfying educational programming,” Szceapek said.
The council could include either item to preserve the 1928 building as a separate referendum question. (The referendum for the new project could be held at some point this year, officials said.)
In seeing cuts that were made to certain items, Councilor Peter Mastrobattista asked why the $8.7 million in professional fees hadn’t been reduced.
“I’m trying like all you guys to find as many pennies as we can to benefit the students on this,” Mastrobattista said.
Szcapek said he would have that item examined to see if any savings could be realized.
The building committee will return to the Town Council on Feb. 16 to review the results of a survey as well as review the financial impact the new high school would have on taxpayers if the project is approved. In addition, the professionals and building committee will further discuss the 1928 building options.