Norwood Fin Com Unanimously Approves Coakley College Plan

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NORWOOD — The Finance Committee unanimously approved the proposal to build the new Coakley Middle School building at its Thursday evening meeting, citing conditions of the current structure, community benefits and increased l classroom space as key factors.

This favorable recommendation will be presented to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, or MSBA, on March 2 and is expected to be approved. At the March 14 special town hall, members of the town assembly will need to approve it by a two-thirds vote to enter into a 30-year debt service agreement to fund the project with the MSBA as financial partner. The final step for him to move forward will be voter approval in the April 4 election.

Alan Slater, member of the finance committee and chairman of the college’s building committee, explained that the proposed new building would house students in grades 5-8. This would not only provide a state-of-the-art facility for students, but would also help alleviate the current crowded conditions in elementary schools in the district.

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Justin Thibeault, director of educational building design firm Ai3 Architects in Wayland, presented the project. The need for a new building was discovered during the development of a district-wide school construction master plan process between 2016 and 2017. The MSBA accepted the Coakley as one of 12 approved candidates out of a group of 72 to move forward in the process.

“The MSBA has identified the Coakley as a building in need throughout the Commonwealth,” he said.

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Construction would begin in 2023 and be completed in two years, when the old building would be demolished. The additional site works and the new synthetic pitch will be completed in 2026.

“One thing to note about the educational program that was developed for this project is that the MSBA actually hailed it as one of the best they’ve ever seen,” he added. “It just shows you the dedication of the staff and everyone who put this in place.”

The new building will be 187,840 square feet, approximately 1 1/2 times the size of the current Coakley. There will be four floors, one dedicated to each class. It will accommodate 1,070 students. Also included are a 600-seat auditorium, gymnasium, black box theatre, dining halls for upper and lower schools, and spaces dedicated to STEM and STEAM as well as teacher-student collaboration. There will be separate routes for the bus and parent drop off.

It will also be net power ready. To be net zero, a $5.7 million photovoltaic system will be considered. It would be expected to pay for itself within 18 years.

The community will be able to use the auditorium and the new synthetic turf pitch with lighting.

The college building committee voted unanimously to have the school built on the current Coakley site, essentially knocking down the sports fields and the school building. The school committee also voted unanimously in favor of the class plan and configuration.

During construction, the sports fields and the tennis court can still be used.

Slater noted that the total cost of the project is expected to be $150 million, with the MSBA recouping $46 million from the tab with a grant. The rest would be financed by a 30-year bond.

The average cost to the taxpayer will be about $386 per year with a house with a assessed value of $550,000. That’s actually less tax impact than the new schools approved for Walpole and Westwood last fall. Walpole residents will pay an average of $423, while Westwood homeowners will pay $482.

If the municipal assembly does not approve the project, we will have to start all over again. The MSBA will not fund a second feasibility study. Construction costs are expected to increase and there is no guarantee of MSBA approval.

There will be a series of building tours starting March 5 so residents can see current conditions. They will be listed on the project website.

“Once they get there and look at the gaps, I think it will be quite striking for them and answer a number of their questions,” he said.

Bob Donnelly, a Fin Com member running for the Board of Selectmen, asked about the 50-year lifespan of the proposed building and the maintenance requirements for the photovoltaic system. Using sustainable materials, the building is expected to last for five decades. The PV contract, if included, would include maintenance costs.

Superintendent David Thomson added the community benefits of an auditorium, new lighted grounds and black box theatre.

“When I look at this ongoing project, there are other savings that if we didn’t do it, we would have to spend money elsewhere,” Fin Com member Judy Langone said. Portable classrooms would be added to elementary schools for $16 million, and middle school repairs would cost $70 for basic repairs alone.

“From a financial standpoint – not to mention raising the building to educational standards like we have to teach children today – it’s a no-brainer.”

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