LHS renovation project is a go
LHS renovation project is a go
LINCOLN – Town Council President Keith Macksoud compared it to the 4th quarter turnaround during the Super Bowl.
If someone had asked a month ago if he supports the Lincoln High School renovation project, he would have said no.
But with a deadline extension from the Rhode Island Department of Education, countless committee hours over the past two years and a weekend’s worth of deliberating cost estimates to fine-tune the project using last-minute cost estimates, the project made a surprising comeback.
At a special meeting Tuesday, town councilors voted unanimously in favor of the LHS renovation as well as the $4 million five-year capital plan for the remaining schools in Lincoln for various projects.
Macksoud told onlookers he was “absolutely shocked” the board was voting to move forward on the project officials have called the largest public building construction the town has seen in about 50 years.
It was just this past January, when the LHS renovation board was stunned with estimates for the addition-renovation project at $66 million, $7 million more than what had been discussed as financially doable for the town.
Had it not been for Town Administrator Joseph T. Almond and Michael Babbitt, the co-chairpersons of the LHS renovation board said, the LHS plan likely wouldn’t have been saved and brought back to a $59 million price tag.
The project, which is about 40 percent new construction and 60 percent renovation, must still be approved by residents, likely as a special election this November, pending legislative approval.
With Tuesday’s vote, councilors repeated their disappointment in the consultant on this project.
Macksoud, like other councilors, had blamed the consultant of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates for what he described as “slipshod work” and cost estimates that were “all over the place.”
He said Edward Frenette of SMMA had a “condescending attitude,” maintaining that plans were on track and would come together. After the “surprise in the numbers” came up mid-January, days before the Feb. 1 deadline to submit to RIDE, Macksoud said that proved not to be the case.
Macksoud said Tuesday, “The truth of the matter was that everything wasn’t just fine, and that is why we’re here tonight. That’s why were here, on Valentine’s Day, at a special meeting to consider this resolution.” He added that this was not the fault of renovation board members.
Speaking of that committee, he said, “All of these people had just one goal, and that was to do what is the best for the students and the town, and that’s why we’re here tonight.”
The approved plan also includes moving central administration from the circa-1927 building at 1624 Lonsdale Ave. to the LHS campus for about $1.8 million, a move Town Council members applauded, as the structure has been what some considered a financial strain due to its age and construction.
Since 2015, representatives of the School Committee, Town Council, town and school administration and a Budget Board member had been meeting to work on what they’ve called a long overdue makeover of Lincoln High.
It’s made up of various buildings, the first of which was constructed in 1955, known today as the “north wing.” Additional classroom spaces were added in 1958, and the “main” high school, Principal Kevin McNamara explained, was built in 1964. Six years later, the “connector” was built. The newest construction at the school, McNamara pointed out, was finished around 1997 when another classroom space was constructed.
It’s a building Supt. Georgia Fortunato has described as the “house that Jack built,” and while the structure itself is technically oversized per RIDE standards, the majority of classrooms are undersized.
A site map of the campus showed that 42 classrooms are more than 25 percent undersized, per square footage guidelines. Six classrooms are at least 15 percent undersized, according to the map.
With the approved plan, Lincoln High will keep some assets it would have lost with a completely new school, Co-chairman Arthur Russo said, such as the school’s auditorium that is “oversized” per RIDE standards today.
As noted by LHS renovation board members, that auditorium sees a huge turnout for various concerts and shows each year, where seats are completely filled.
The project, designed by SMMA, also calls for the demolition of the oldest section of LHS, a space not used during the school day, and the renovation of the gym that sits on the far right side of the campus, behind classroom spaces.
After the project is completed, LHS will have new dining commons, an outdoor amphitheater, large group instruction spaces, a media center, teacher planning spaces and improved labs and classrooms, among other improved spaces in the school.
If taxpayers vote in favor of the project, construction is slated to begin in January 2019, and continue through May 2021. Construction crews will utilize summers for much of their work, and the renovated school is anticipated to open in September 2021.
Almond, who previously explained the project is not to exceed $60 million, said Lincoln could comfortably manage an LHS addition-renovation plan. With the RIDE reimbursement, the town can handle $32 million before raising the tax levy, he explained. Almond said once a project hits $50 million, Lincoln would add $1 million to the tax levy a year, and for every $5 million added expense, it costs about $250,000 a year on the levy.
After the meeting, McNamara said he was thrilled the project would move forward, talking about the “retrofitting” the school has done to fit “21st century programs and experiences into a 1965 building.”
“I think the benefits of teaching and learning are going to be tremendous when the space matches the pedagogy,” he said.
Similarly, Jim Jahnz of Town Council said, “Lincoln is a first-class town, first class education, first-class facilities should come with it.”