LHS athletic complex plans scaled back

LHS athletic complex plans scaled back

LINCOLN – Some of the planned features of the student athletic complex at Lincoln High School have been slashed, along with the price tag for the proposed project.

Plans for a $12 million physical education center have been cut in half, according to school and town officials.

School leaders first appeared before the Town Council in April, sharing plans for a state-of-the-art field house featuring an indoor track, multiple sports practice areas and storage space. They were told the project was too pricey, and asked to return to the drawing board to adjust the plans.

Councilors indicated that the project must be funded under the LHS construction project bond premium reimbursement.

“We all agree that in order to move forward with this project, it has to be paid out of the bond premium money,” Council President Keith Macksoud said on Tuesday during the second joint meeting with school leaders.

Finance Director John Ward said that amount will land somewhere between $5.8 million and $6.6 million, far short of the $9 million to $12 million project they hoped to fund.

The plan is to submit the athletic center plan to the state as part of the School Department’s five-year asset protection plan. The plan calls for about $14.4 million in total improvements, including the athletic center and elementary school upgrades.

If the cost of the center rises above the bond premium, councilors warned that the town would have to return to the taxpayers to ask for additional funding.

“I don’t want to speak for the finance director, but I don’t think we have an extra $6 million lying around,” Macksoud said. The town would have to prove its ability to fund the entire $14.4 million application, he said.

Councilor Bruce Ogni said he feels hesitant to approve a project knowing it may not meet the needs of Lincoln’s students.

“We were told $12 million was close, but not enough. Then that $9 million was close, but not enough. Now we’re down to $6 million. What is that going to get us?” Ogni asked. “Are we just condensing this thing?”

Ogni said he would prefer to go to the taxpayers for funding to build the state-of-the-art complex the town deserves. The proposed cost has been cut by so much, Ogni said he doesn’t see it working out.

Councilor TJ Russo said the intent of the project is to replace the North Gymnasium, which was demolished as part of the LHS construction project, and to add athletic space. The athletic center would be a bit bigger, he said, “but certainly not what was originally proposed to us.”

He suggested that the building could be made to support a future addition if more funding comes in.

“I think this seems to be addressing a need for physical education and storage space. Is it as big as we’d wish for a full indoor track, an area for shot-putting, and an area for soccer drills? No,” he said.

Ogni said he’s hesitant to support a project knowing it might need an addition in a few years. Russo said the difference is a discussion of wants versus needs.

School Committee member John Picozzi said school officials had been anticipating the sale of the former Fairlawn School, but that those plans fell through. Despite the slashed price, he said there has always been a “need” for the athletic center.

“We don’t want to go to the taxpayers for more, but we still need this,” he said.

Weighing in on the “want versus need” debate, Athletic Director Greg O’Connor said the school lost significant space over the course of construction there, including the gym, a cafeteria used by the wrestling team, and most storage.

“What we’ve accomplished over the last two years has been smoke and mirrors,” he said, noting that certain community fitness programs and indoor youth programs lost their space. The school is adding more athletic programs such as unified volleyball, basketball and cheer while spending money to rent outside space, he said.

“This is an absolute need. We just spent $10 grand to replace equipment that mice and rodents destroyed. That’s $10 grand that could have enhanced programming,” O’Connor said.

He said there are 90 students taking physical education in one small gym at a time, and that the reconstructed gym at LHS still isn’t finished.

Ogni said he’s not against the project, but wants it “done right,” noting some of the headaches he’s experienced as a member of the LHS Building Committee.

“Having lived through that other project … I’m not happy with it. We’re getting through it, let's put it that way,” he said. “To me, it wasn’t done properly and I don’t want to do that again.” He said he has the “change order blues” from the LHS renovation project.

Ogni’s against “condensing down” the project further, and said his vision for the space is a "Lion’s Den", where rival sports teams are “afraid to play us.”

He asked whether, if the price is set at $6.6 million, they can mandate that the project can't go over that amount.

Derek Osterman, of Colliers International (the owner’s project manager hired to oversee the project), said the town could stipulate a target budget in its contracts. He recommended applying about 70 percent of the budget toward actual construction costs, 10 percent toward contingency, and 20 percent to other costs.

“By having those guardrails in place, it’s a little easier to manage the process and you’re less likely to put the contingency at risk in terms of a potential overrun,” he said.

The council and school department agreed to pass the project into the hands of a new building committee with representatives from both the town and school community.

Comments

I agree with Councilor Ogni's hesitancy based upon the headaches our town experienced with the school reconstruction.

I also support his vision for a "Lion's Den", to intimidate rival sports team. The design does look like a prison, though, and that might be intimidating enough already.