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Project Update

Important Update on Traffic Circulation

As construction officially begins, traffic circulation on the Fort River site will change beginning April 8th.  The southern entrance to the site, closest to College Street, will become the construction only entrance and all school traffic to and from the Fort River School will now enter at the former exit, closest to Main Street.  This change will officially begin on April 8th, 2024 and will stay in place until the completion of the final site work in 2026.  This sketch describes how traffic will work on the site.

To watch a video describing the change in English click here:  Fort River Traffic Plan Mar 27, 2024 (youtube.com)

Para ver un video que describe el cambio en español.
  haga clic aquí:  https://youtu.be/K2ycizPlnmY

Traffic change for website revised.JPG

To join a Zoom webinar describing these change on April 4th at 6pm, click the following link to join:

https://amherstma.zoom.us/j/83498184915

 

Or One tap mobile :

    +16468769923,,83498184915# US (New York)

Or Telephone:

    Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):

    +1 646 876 9923 US (New York)

    +1 646 931 3860 US

Webinar ID: 834 9818 4915

To raise your hand and express public comment you must press *9 on your phone and wait to be recognized by the host.

Frequently Asked Questions

GENERAL DESCRIPTION AND TIMELINE

FAQ01 Q01
FAQ01 Q02

  • What is the Amherst Elementary School Building Project?

    • The proposed new Fort River Elementary School will replace the Wildwood and Fort River Elementary Schools with one new school at the Fort River site. The District plans to move the sixth grade to the Middle School. The new school will serve children in grades kindergarten through 5th; Crocker pre-school through 5th grade.

    • The new three-story building at the Fort River site will have a capacity of 575 students, with five classrooms for each of the six grades (K-5). The building will highly energy efficient. It will be net zero, all-electric, using ground-source heat pumps (no fossil fuels) and photovoltaic panels for renewable energy.

    • As described in the January 26, 2023 Community Forums (Click here for Forum) the school will have 21st-century learning environments, with flexible teaching spaces in daylight-filled classrooms and shared spaces. The school will be home to Special Needs programs and the Caminantes dual language program.

    • The school’s proposed site plan will provide outdoor areas for learning and play.  The project will also invest in the restoration and drainage of the Fort River community fields. These fields are used by multiple youth and adult athletic teams, as well as the broader Amherst community for recreation.​

  • Will the project will have support from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)?  Where are we in the MSBA process?

    • The project was accepted into the MSBA building program in 2021. The MSBA provides funding through a competitive process for public school districts to improve and maintain their teaching spaces.  We completed the MSBA Schematic Design phase and submitted the report to MSBA on February 23, 2023.   (See "About the Project" tab for Reports)

    • At the outset, educational priorities guided the design of educational spaces, which determined the need for a 105,750 square-foot building.  (Link to Preliminary Design Program report)

    • The Building Committee selected the “preferred option” of building a new, three-story school at the Fort River site in June, 2022. (Link to Preferred Schematic Report)  

    • Based on the budget submitted in the Preferred Schematic Report, the MSBA voted in their April 2023 Board meeting to providing an estimated $43 million to support the new school and related site work. In December 2023 the Board voted to provide additional funding, now a total estimated value of $49million of the total project cost of $99million.

  • When was local funding approved?

    • A special election to support a debt exclusion to raise property taxes via bond financing of the project occurred on May 2, 2023.  The vote was 82% in support of the project.

    • With a positive vote, the construction will start in 2024 with the new school opening in Fall 2026. (see Timeline on the Project Home tab)

Return to the Table of Contents above.

FAQ01 Q03
FAQ02 Q01
Mobile Crane

STATE OF EXISTING SCHOOLS & PROCESS

  • Why do we need an elementary school building project? Why not fix the existing schools?

    • Built in the early 1970s with open-classroom designs, the Fort River and Wildwood buildings need major repair, renovation, or replacement of systems to address multiple essential systems and code concerns.

    • Aging HVAC, plumbing, electrical systems and roofs are all in need of major replacement or repair.  Windows, doors, bathrooms and more require upgrades.  (Click here for Section 4 "Existing Conditions" of the Preliminary Design Program report)

    • The buildings are poorly insulated. The heating systems are old, inefficient and rely on fossil fuels: oil in Wildwood and gas in Fort River. Parts of the buildings lack air-conditioning and others are poorly heated.

    • The existing wiring and classrooms do not support 21st-century learning priorities and lack daylight in internal spaces for students and staff.

    • A repair of either school would require the abatement of hazardous materials. At Wildwood, the cost is estimated at $1.6 million.  At Fort River, the abatement costs would be over $1 million and are included with the cost of new construction.

    • Areas of the schools do not meet accessibility (ADA) codes.

    • Based on information provided in the Preferred Schematic Report, the cost of repairing just Fort River and bringing it into compliance with building and accessibility codes the estimated construction cost is roughly $40 million for one school.  (Click here to see Section 6 of the Preliminary Design Program report for Alternative 1, Repair/Code.)  Based on the fact that both schools are almost identical, the estimated construction cost to repair and bring both schools into code compliance would total more than $80 million.  

    • Note this is without moving away from fossil fuels. Yet, Amherst's climate action goals seek to move away from fossil fuels to an all-electric system with renewable energy to offset energy use (see "Sustainability" section below).

  • Enrollment has declined steeply over the past decades.

    • Elementary school enrollment, including the sixth grade, is now 1,050, a decline of 800 students since 1994.   

    • Operating three schools is inefficient and costly.

    • Based on the school projection in the Preferred Schematic Report replacing Fort River and Wildwood with one new school will reduce operating costs by at least $1 million a year. This includes a $250,000 reduction in electric and fuel costs with the net-zero new school.  

  • Who makes what decisions? What is the role of the School Committee?  Of the School Building Committee? 

    • The School Committee, working with District staff, reviewed and approved the Educational Program that guided and informed the classroom and square footage of the building.

    • The School Building Committee works with the architect, DiNisco Design, with input from the community and School staff, to make decisions about the layout of educational spaces, building systems, and school location to determine a preferred option. The Town Manager and Superintendent, along with the School Building Committee, sign off on submittals to the MSBA.

    • The Building Committee includes Town and school staff, two town councilors, one school committee member, and residents.  (See "Project Team" tab.)

  • What is the Role of the Town Council? Voters?

    • Now that the project has reached the Schematic Design phase, the Town Council will vote on whether to authorize debt and the funding source for that debt.  (See "Paying for Amherst's Share of the Project" section below.)
      The Town does not have sufficient internal funds to finance Amherst’s share of the school project.  This will require vote support of additional taxes to pay for long-term bonds for the School.

    • The vote is scheduled for May 2.

  • How can I get information, ask questions, or express my views?

    • There are multiple ways for you to participate and learn more about the project. All meeting materials and reports are available in the “Meeting Record” section of the website.

    • You may submit comments or ask questions by completing the web form on the project website under the “Get Involved” section or by emailing amherst.school.project@gmail.com.​ 

Return to the Table of Contents above

FAQ02 Q02
FAQ02 Q03
FAQ02 Q04
FAQ02 Q05

BUILDING DESIGN & CHOICE OF LOCATION

  • What are the educational benefits for our children?

    • Up-to-date technology for 21st-century learning.

    • Abundant natural light in classrooms and learning spaces. Research shows that daylight can increase test scores by 20 percent.

    • Flexible spaces for individual learning and group learning to support collaboration and problem-solving.

    • Design and classroom layout will provide enhanced support for the dual language program.

    • Potential for cross-age learning with two grade levels per floor.

    • Dedicated special education, English language learner, and academic classrooms where students can receive focused attention/instruction within close proximity to their grade-level peers.

    • Outdoor learning and play spaces, including trail systems and rain gardens to explore during recess

    • Learning lab about the environmental 

    • Entrances and exits will be secure (see "Safety" paragraph below)

    • Fully accessible.  The site and building will meet ADA codes, including bathrooms and interior spaces, entrances, walkways, and parking drop-off areas. The existing schools are not fully compliant.

  • Amherst had a choice of either Wildwood or Fort River as the location for the school project. Why did the Committee select Fort River?

    • Amherst does not have a “swing” space that would allow students to learn off-site during construction. This means existing schools need to stay open while the new school is built.

    • The size of the Fort River site (31 acres with 20 usable), with two entrances and exits, makes it possible to build a new school while keeping the existing school on the site open. The new school will be 100 feet away from the current building (see the illustration). The site will enable the new school to open in 2026.

    • Because of the smaller site, building at Wildwood was projected to have lasted at least a year longer to provide play areas.

    • The proximity of construction to the current Wildwood school would have disrupted teaching and there would have been limited areas for outdoor play during many phases of construction. (Fewer than 11 of Wildwood’s 14 acres are useable due to slopes.)

    • With only one entrance at Wildwood, construction vehicles would have vied with buses and cars for safe entrance and exit.  

    • The Fort River site also provides more space for the safe circulation of cars and buses on site and staff and visitor parking.

  • Why did the Committee decide to build a new school rather than renovate/expand one of the existing schools?

    • Renovation/expansion was considered as an option but not selected for four reasons: 1) It was not significantly less expensive or might have even ended up having a higher cost once the relocation of students was considered; 2) it was very difficult to meet the energy and classroom layout goals; 3) it would have a significant impact on students in the occupied building during renovation; and 4) it would have taken two or more years to complete because of the need to phase construction.

  • What about the water table at the Fort River site? How does the project address this concern?

    • The project site budget includes a substantial investment in raising the ground level and improving soil and drainage.

    • The foundation of the building will be raised 2 feet above the existing ground level, with gravel, new soil, and subsurface engineered drainage to protect the building and fields. Parking areas and playing fields raised by 1 foot with underdrain systems. 

    • The site plan includes rain gardens and other means for protecting the area while providing opportunities for students to learn about the natural environment.

  • The building looks beautiful but is it too “fancy”? How has the Committee controlled costs?

    • The three-story design of the building and floor layout is efficient and cost-effective. The footprint is about half of the current Fort River building, reducing foundation costs and conserving energy

    • Materials were selected for durability, quality and also cost. The brick exterior will be long-lasting with low maintenance.

    • Materials inside the building similarly were selected with priority given to durability and cost, without sacrificing educational, acoustical, and thermal comfort goals

    • Due to the rapid inflation in the cost of materials, the Committee and Design team reduced total costs by over $5 million in January 2023 by switching to less expensive materials and design changes that did not undermine the durability, quality or function. The Committee also reduced the costs of some amenities.

  • What about safety? From intruders or in the event of need to exit the building rapidly?

    • There is a secure controlled entrance in the front of the building, all visitors will need to be signed in.

    • The classroom corridors can be closed off from the community spaces.

    • All classroom doors can be locked from the inside by teachers.

      • Most classroom doors will swing into the classroom.

      • All classroom doors will feature deadbolt locks that will secure classroom doors from the inside.

    • Side doors’ glass will be protected from attempts at forced entry.

      • Security film on glazing is included at all entrances. The glass is not ballistic rated.  However, the specified film will keep broken glass in place in door or window frames as a deterrent to forced entry.  During detailed design there will be further discussion with district administration and Amherst public safety agencies to ensure the project provides the appropriate level of security.

    • Staircases and elevators are located to provide safe exits.​

    • Provisions for emergency evacuations when elevators cannot be used: 

      • The project includes emergency evacuation chairs to allow the mobility-impaired to evacuate the upper floors of the building in the event of an emergency. An emergency telephone will be provided adjacent to the elevator controls on the upper floors of the building that will allow a building occupant to call for assistance if needed.

    • Amherst first responders will be able to access the site and entry/exit.

    • The School will have security cameras on the outside perimeter and inside.

      • The project includes security camera coverage of the entire exterior of the building and its immediate surroundings, including all entrances. Cameras are in interior spaces that will be used by the general public, including the cafeteria, gymnasium, as well as stairwells. District policy will determine how the security system is monitored. During detailed design there will be further discussion with district administration and Amherst public safety agencies to ensure the project provides the appropriate level of security.

    • Crime Prevention and Emergencies:

      • The design team’s Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) consultant reviewed the proposed project with the first and emergency responders for the Town of Amherst. The review of the site and floor plans evaluated safety and security measures in and around the site and school, and touched on building elements and procedures. The Amherst Police Department, Fire Department, and the CRESS Department (Community Responders for Equity, Safety & Service), along with an external School Safety expert were consulted during the design phase. Their input has been incorporated into the proposed safety and security features of the project

    • Further safety discussions will occur at the next phase of the project. 

​​

  • Will there be room to expand if enrollment grows?

    • Yes. The building classroom spaces provide room for enrollment to grow, including somewhat higher student-to-staff ratios

    • The layout allows flexibility to use space interchangeably.

    • NOTE: Childbearing trends locally, regionally and throughout the state, indicate a low risk of a surge in the number of children.

  • How will the site plan accommodate car, bus, bike, pedestrians?

    • The proposed site plan has buses and cars entering and exiting separately.

    • The car entry/exit will be moved south of its current location to allow queuing and more space to merge into traffic when heading north

    • There will be safe pedestrian and bike routes on site, with bike racks.

    • The parking lot and school are designed to be accessible, with designated space for van and handicap parking

    • The bus loop provides on-site space to accommodate buses/vans

    • The Town is exploring grant funding and ways to improve the two intersections near the Fort River site. This is needed for the new housing developments as well as the school.

    • Safety:  Secure entrance, exits, and classrooms. All visitors will register and come through the front vestibule. The design enables the school to prevent access to classroom areas if needed.

 

  • How will the proposed building project benefit the broader Amherst community?

    • After hours: In addition to providing an excellent learning center for elementary-age children, the building will include spaces that are designed for use by the community when school is not in session.  These include: a “cafetorium” with stage performance space, a library, a gym and music/activity rooms.

    • Secure access: The proposed floor layout makes it possible to have secure access to community spaces without accessing classrooms

    • The project will provide new playgrounds, and nature paths as well as rehabilitated community fields for sports and recreation, and links to trail systems. These fields are actively used by multiple athletic teams.

    • Resilience hub. A back-up generator will support the school in the event of a power outage.
       

  • Will the consolidated school save operating costs?

    • Yes. Operating and maintaining three schools is more expensive than two schools due to administrative and other overhead costs.   As detailed in the Preferred Schematic Report to MSBA (click here for Section 4 MSBA budget statement) the school department estimated up to $1 million in operational savings from lower utility costs, reduced administrative costs, and overhead costs.

    • The net-zero design of the proposed new school will save at least $250,000 per year in utility costs compared to the current schools’ fuel and electric costs due to the use of renewable energy to offset electricity costs. (see "Sustainability" section below)

    • However, more sophisticated energy systems may require extra training of facility and maintenance staff.

  • Have all the site and building design decisions been made? Will there still be opportunities for community input?

    • There will be ample opportunity for continued community input. The decisions made to date include the size, location and major building systems.  Design details such as colors, furnishings, outdoor spaces, play surfaces, play equipment and more will occur after funding is secured to move forward.

    • The design team involved teachers and staff in the basic layout of classroom spaces. The next phase will decide on details, including the possible location of murals/art in hallway spaces.

    • The Building Committee anticipates working with multiple subcommittees, including sustainability and outdoor spaces sub-committees.

Return to the Table of Contents above

FAQ3 Q01
FAQ3 Q02
FAQ3 Q04
FAQ3 Q06 Safety
FAQ3 Q03
FAQ3 Q05
FAQ3 Q07
FAQ3 Q08
FAQ3 Q09
FAQ3 Q10
FAQ3 Q11
Image by Noah Buscher

SUSTAINABILITY

FAQ4 Q1
FAQ4 Q2

  • The School is designed to achieve Net Zero: Amherst has a net-zero bylaw that requires new buildings to move away from fossil fuels to all-electric HVAC systems and use renewables to offset energy costs. ​​

    • The building will be highly insulated, with zones to control temperature and air circulation, and systems designed for high energy efficiency.

    • The building targets an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 25 – a level that will qualify for $1.6 million in Eversource construction and operating subsidies. 

    • The school will replace two schools that use fossil fuels.  This will substantially reduce emissions. The Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee estimates a 20 percent decline in greenhouse gas emissions based on the fuel and electric use of the current buildings and emission factors for oil, natural gas, and our electric grid from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

    • The HVAC system will also provide enhanced air quality and thermal comfort.

  • Heating, Air, and Ventilation System (HVAC): The proposed school will be all-electric, using ground source heat pumps – often called geothermal systems – for heating and cooling the building.

 

  • What about solar? Will the Town own the solar system?

    • The project budget includes rooftop and parking-lot photovoltaic panels (solar panels) to generate renewable energy to offset the annual electricity use.

    • The Town will own the solar arrays. This means that all of the savings in renewable energy will accrue to the Town budget

    • The PV system is designed to offset the expected annual energy use – reducing school utility costs to zero or near zero with incentives.

  • How much more does the geothermal HVAC and PV system cost than a more conventional system?

    • Eversource will provide a $1.6 million construction and operating system incentive for the geothermal system.

    • The Design team estimates that a geothermal system costs about $1.3 million more than would a new conventional system with natural gas after allowing for the Eversource incentives.

    • With the federal Inflation Reduction Act, public, tax-exempt investments in geothermal systems will be eligible for a direct payment “credit” of up to 30% of the investment costs.

    • This direct payment would likely more than offset the net cost of geothermal compared to a fossil fuel HVAC system.

  • What about the costs of the Solar Panels?

    • Public investment in solar panels are also eligible for the new federal direct payment credits of up to 30% of the $3.2 million system costs.

    • Renewable energy generated by solar panels will offset building electricity costs, reducing costs to near zero or zero with incentives.

    • Compared to keeping Fort River and Wildwood open, the system will result in an estimated $250,000 a year in utility savings.

    • Including the federal credits and annual electricity savings, the PV system will rapidly return the initial investment costs.

Return to the Table of Contents above

FAQ4 Q3
FAQ4 Q4

PAYING FOR AMHERST’S
SHARE OF THE PROJECT

 

Link to:  Town Information Sheet On Debt Exclusion

FAQ 5 Q1
FAQ 5 Q2
FAQ 5 Q3
  • What is Amherst’s expected share of the total project?

    • An estimated $55 million.

    • The expected  $1.6 million in utility rebates, $700,000 CPAC partial funding of the community fields, and new federal tax credits will reduce the amount needed from debt financing.

  • How will Amherst pay for our share of the building project?

    • The Town plans to finance all or most of our share of the project cost through debt; similar to a home loan or mortgage, the Town would pay back the debt over 20 or 30 years.

    • Given other pressing needs, financing the Town share will require an increase in taxes during the life of the debt, known as a debt exclusion.

 

  • Will the project increase my property taxes?

    • Yes. The Town plans to finance all or most of its share of the project through long-term debt with repayment of that debt across 20 or 30 years.

    • A debt exclusion must be approved by Amherst voters through a “debt exclusion” vote.

    • This is scheduled for May 2.
       

  • What is a debt exclusion?

    • A debt exclusion vote allows a town to raise tax revenue in addition to that generated under the Proposition 2½ levy. (The limit is the total overall amount any community is allowed to raise through taxation. Proposition 2½ limits the annual increase to 2.5% plus new growth plus increases in the assessed value of the property.)

    • A debt exclusion provides additional tax revenues to pay for debt (principal and interest) borrowed for a specific purpose for a stated duration. In this way, a town can build a school or other building and not fund it from its existing revenues. In other words, a debt exclusion is a means of funding a particular project(s) with a temporary increase in the levy limit. The debt is excluded from (that is, exempt from) the levy limitations of Proposition 2½. Debt exclusion is a tool that towns use to show commitment to projects and willingness to support them financially.

    • A debt exclusion finances a particular project(s) and your taxes increase for a period of time, usually 10-20 years, to cover the cost of the project. When the financing bond is paid off, your tax increase for that project goes away.

 

Return to the Table of Contents above

FAQ 5 Q4
FAQ 5 Q5

PLANS FOR EXISTING SCHOOLS
IF THE NEW SCHOOL MOVES FORWARD

FAQ06 Q01
FAQ06 Q02

  • What will happen to the current Fort River school?

    • The building will be demolished once the new school is constructed.

    • The cost of demolition is included in the project budget.
       

  • What are the plans for the Wildwood school?

    • Wildwood Elementary School sits on 14 acres of land. The vacated school will have significant challenges, including a roof nearing the end of its life expectancy, HVAC systems that are failing and require regular repair, the presence of asbestos conditions requiring hazmat removal, minimal insulation, lack of daylight, windows that need to be upgraded and replaced among other capital expenses.

    • The Town also owns a vacant older school in South Amherst and has recently acquired a property with a former clubhouse and developable acreages (the former Hickory Ridge golf course). Assuming the School district determines the Wildwood Elementary School is no longer needed for educational purposes, the School Committee will seek to transfer the building and land to the Town.

    • The Town will then conduct a robust planning process to assess a range of potential uses. Given the other major capital projects and ongoing Town capital needs for building maintenance, equipment and vehicles, and repair of roads and sidewalks, Amherst does not currently have sufficient funds to invest in operating, upgrading or renovating the vacated Wildwood school. The Town’s operating budget will be stretched over the coming years due to inflation and our ongoing commitments to our schools, library, and public services to residents thus limiting the dollars available for maintenance of vacated buildings.

    • The property will be a valuable asset that could leverage support for a range of alternative uses, including public-private projects.

Return to the Table of Contents above

Quick Links:

  • Elementary School Building Committee and Community Forums:  Link to "Meeting Record" tab.

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