School Building Committee Meeting 2/7/19

On Thursday, February 7, the School Building Committee convened in City Council chambers to receive updates from the project manager on the schematic design phase and costs reconciliation.

Let's not bury the lede: they reported that the project is on track and that cost projections are consistent with earlier projections.

The city's share is currently projected at ~$129 million, with the remainder of the ~$343 million provided by the state. This is great news and puts the city in excellent position for the upcoming submission of the schematic design to the MSBA. Full steam ahead.

City Manager Eileen Donoghue opened up the meeting by stressing the upcoming timeline: once the School Building Committee and City Council have voted to advance, the city will make its formal Schematic Design Phase submission on or before February 20th. That will put the Lowell High School project before the MSBA for their April 10th board meeting.

Schematic Design Presentation

While the presentation largely covered the same ground as the presentation given to the City Council on January 23rd, there were a few areas where the project team went into more depth during the presentation itself or in the question and answer period following.


  • Perkins/Eastman and Skanska reported that they had completed outreach with the various stakeholders indicated in earlier meetings (LHS focus groups, police and fire, etc) and that they had finished necessary investigations (75 Arcand site check, laser scanning of buildings, traffic studies, etc).
  • They will continuously refine schedules and cost estimates as a design tool, with three additional update periods during the project.
  • They stressed the nature of this project as really comprising several smaller projects: the Gymnasium, the Freshman Academy, and the different phases of the 1980 building and 1922 building renovations.
  • Skanska talked about receiving approval for the CM at risk from the Inspector General, and indicated that they are already seeing a strong pool of firms interested in this project. The selection process will have two parts: furst, they will ensure qualifications for interested firms, and then move on to a request for proposals. They expect to have a construction manager on board by June.
  • The space summary has been reviewed/approved by the MSBA. There was very little ineligible space for a project of this size, and they stressed that it is standard to have some amount.
  • Community Hub: they spent more time talking about the community hub of the school, centered around the main lobby and connecting the main entrance, the outdoor quad, the freshman academy building, the gymnasium, and the Lord building's community aspects (restaurant, cafeteria, credit union, store, etc).
  • 1922 Building Basement: there was also more detail given on the attention that has been spent on transforming the 1922 basement. They've planned new methods for greatly expanding natural light to the space, with expanded window wells and skylights. There is also a significant reorientation, with a reclustering of the arts to meet the education plan's requirements around adjacencies for specific disciplines (for example, the music room and dance studios). The clear intention here is to create a vibrant, inspirational space where creativity can flousish.
  • They discussed plans to have two media centers, with the one in the Coburn building being a more classical library and the one in the 1980 building focused more technology and media.
  • Landscape Features/Opportunities: they've fleshed out plans for various landscape features around the campus and highlighted a few. The 1980 building's new lightwells provide an interesting opportunity to bring both light and nature into the heart of the building, providing opportunities for tie-ins with the science, art, and culinary programs. There is a green roof with a tie-in to the clean energy lab and gardens. An outdoor terrace alongside the canal could be utilized for outdoor dining with the culinary program and student lunches. At the entryways, they've used landscaping features as subtle security features, and they've also started exploring the use of historical artifacts to feature (no shortage of those in Lowell!). Finally, the expansive quad will double as both a key school feature as well as a community space. Ideas here included outdoor films, public festival space, extensive benches, use as a natural amphitheater.
  • As far as the 1922 restoration, they touched on their plans to upgrade with historically accurate windows, to rebuild and insulate the interior walls, and to make the entrances on Father Morisette and Kirk Street (at the Clock) fully accessible and secure.
  • Finally, the OPM rep concluded by touching on the overall scope of the project and pointing out that the campus will have a very collegiate feel for a high school.

Budget Update

As noted above, the new round of estimates (one by Perkins Eastman, one by Skanska, one by an independent estimator) showed that the project costs are stable. In the prior phase (Feasibility Study module, where the preferred schematic design was submitted), the project was estimated at $345 million total, with a city share of $135 million. After this round of reconciliation, the project is estimated at a slightly reduced amount: $343 million total and $129 million city share.

  • Total construction costs are estimated at $434/sf. The new construction (freshman academy and gymnasium) portion is at $485/sf and the renovation (1980 and 1922 buildings) at $358/sf. These numbers compare very favorably to other projects around the state because we're utilizing what's available with the existing buildings, particularly the 1922.
  • Skanska reiterated that they have an exceptional record of coming in on budget and on deadline with MSBA school projects. They expressed a high level of confidence in the estimates and pointed out that there are a lot of eyes on this project and that everything is being reviewed constantly.
  • As part of the MSBA's review for the April board meeting, they will have their own cost estimate figures to reconcile with the project as part of the review.
  • The Skanska rep also pointed out that Lowell is one of very few communities to receive such a high level of reimbursement on construction costs.

This is the most important takeaway: the City of Lowell is in excellent position to reap an enormous benefit from the MSBA program on this project. The costs to Lowell taxpayers are about $130 million, and we will receive about 2:1 matching funds from the state if we stay on track.

Next Steps

  1. February 12: City Council vote to advance schematic design submission.
  2. February 20: Deadline for submission.
  3. April 10: MSBA board meeting.