What ever method, school upgrades remain expensive
By Brian Falla / Daily News Staff
Wednesday, August 17, 2005


NORWOOD -- The number of options for upgrading the high school has grown, but projected costs remain the same.

     Symmes Maini & McKee Associates presented the School Facilities Task Force this week with three more options, including a full tear-down of the existing high school that some hoped could save the town money.

     But the firm told the committee Monday that because of grading issues on the site, a full tear-down would likely still fall within the $70 million to $80 million range, similar to seven other variations.

     The committee now will go back to the drawing board, reconvening the Education Specification Subcommittee that will re-examine the school's needs with an eye toward trying to trim costs.

     The committee also agreed to take the next week to study all eight options with the goal of making some cuts and getting down to three or four plans that can be studied in greater detail.

     "We're going to sit down and try to narrow the options and come up with a hierarchy of what's really important and what we really need," said committee co-Chairman Jerry Kelleher.

     "We seem to be adding options when we need to be subtracting," said committee member Bill Plasko Jr. "I think if we can get down to three or maybe four projects that we can get our arms around, we'll be back on track."

     Plasko said the problem with current estimates is that they are based on things like the cost of relocating students during construction and other contingencies that vary greatly from one option to the next.

     By focusing on a few choices, Plasko said it may be possible to save money without touching the school at all.

     Plasko also believes the committee already defined the need when it approved the education specifications last month. The price tag should not be the determining factor on which project ultimately is brought to voters, he said.

     "People's comfort level with this project should be based on the need, not finances," said Plasko.

     Committee member Alan Slater agreed that more due diligence was needed before the committee can bring any project to voters.

     "My view is we have to bring forward a project that meets the education goals of the system and takes care of the accreditation issues raised by NEASC," said committee member Alan Slater. "At the same time, we have to...see where we can reasonably reduce costs."

     The high school has been placed on warning status by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, threatening the school's accreditation. The 21-member committee is charged with finding a solution to the facility needs at the school.