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Amherst

Public Schools

Frequently
Asked Questions

The project is currently in the “feasibility phase”. This page will be updated as we have more detailed answers to questions about location, building plan, and costs.

GENERAL

  • What is the Amherst Elementary School Building Project?

    • Amherst applied for and was accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority core program starting 2021 to rebuild, renovate/expand, or build a new elementary school with grant support. With School Committee vote to move the 6th grade to the middle school in the Fall of 2023, the building could consolidate Fort River and Wildwood into one school with 575 students in kindergarten through 5th grade.  This is one of the options approved by the granting authority.

    • With consolidation, Amherst would have two elementary schools grades K-5: the consolidated school and Crocker Farm.

  • Why do we need an elementary school building project?

    • Built in the early 1970s with an open-classroom design, Fort River and Wildwood buildings need major repair, renovation, or replacement to support 21st Century learning priorities, provide classrooms and flexible daylight filled space. This presentation provides more information about the need to address the Fort River and Wildwood school buildings.

    • Additionally, the Amherst community places a high priority on buildings that meet climate challenges, such as “Net Zero” building designs; this priority requires structural and operating systems that move away from fossil fuels and instead rely on renewable energy sources.

  • What is the timeline for the project?

    • We are currently in the “feasibility” phase that includes developing educational priorities for the school to guide the design and size of the school project. The goal is to narrow choices to one preferred option by the summer of 2022, and then have the Design team develop designs to enable accurate estimates of the building project costs by the end of 2022.

    • If all targets are met, the design team currently projects the school building will open for learning in Fall 2026. (see Timeline on Home Page)

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

    • The Building Committee, working collaboratively with the School Committee and with input from the Amherst community, is responsible for most final decisions about the project, such as building location and option. The School Committee, working with District staff, is responsible for reviewing and approving the educational plan or program that guides and informs the design of the building. The Town Manager and Superintendent, along with the School Committee, sign off on submittals to the MSBA, such as the Preliminary Design Program and Preferred Schematic Report, etc.

  • Who are the Members of the Building Committee?  What role does the Town Council play?

    • The Committee includes Town and school staff, two town councilors, one school committee member, and residents. Click here for a list of Building Committee members.

    • Once the project reaches the Schematic Design phase, when a detailed design and project cost estimate is completed, the Town Council will vote on whether and when to authorize debt and the funding source for that debt. See MONEY & BUDGET section below.

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

    • There are multiple ways for you to participate and learn about the project. In addition to the series of visioning workshops to inform the educational program development, there will be a series of community forums throughout this year where you can hear updates on the design work and participate in discussions to help inform the decisions to be made. Dates and information on how to join visioning workshops and community forums are here.

    • You also may submit comments or ask questions by completing the webform on the project website or by emailing amherst.school.project@gmail.com.

    • You may also submit public comment during meetings of the Building Committee and the School Committee. Find the Building Committee meeting schedule, here. Find the School Committee meeting schedule, here.

Mobile Crane

BUILDING DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION

  • Where will the building project be located?

    • This decision has not been made. However, locations (sites) are part of what’s being studied during the Feasibility phase of the project. Assuming a consolidated school, the project will be located at either the Fort River or Wildwood site. The decision on which of these locations will be the site for the project will be guided by analysis of the current buildings, geographic site, climate goals, traffic patterns, community input, and other considerations.

    • The current timeline projects that the final decision regarding location of the project will be made by June 2022.

  • Will this be an all-new building or will sections of the existing school building be renovated with the addition of space to address educational goals and the expected enrollment?

    • That decision has not been made yet. The feasibility stage of the project will study renovation, renovation with addition (“add/reno”), and building a new building. Comparative costs and the ability to meet educational and climate goals will guide the final decision.

  • Where will students be educated during construction? 

    • Depending on the option selected, it may be possible to have students continue in the school. The evaluation of options will include looking at options that consider the duration of construction and continued use of the building to inform design decisions and the decision on the best option.

  • Will the building project have benefits for the broader Amherst community?

    • In addition to providing an excellent learning center for elementary age children, the building will include some spaces that are designed to enable use by the community when school is not in session.  Spaces such as a “cafetorium” with performance space, a library, and a gym, in addition to outdoor spaces, are being considered. It is also possible the project will result in operating cost savings.

SUSTAINABILITY

  • Amherst has a net-zero bylaw that requires new buildings to move away from fossil fuels and use renewables to offset energy costs. (Link to bylaws, see 3.51) Will net-zero apply to the building project?

    • Achieving a net-zero building is a core goal of the project. The bylaw requires new construction to meet this requirement. The costs of addition-renovation options will also be assessed based on the ability to comply with the bylaw.

    • Achieving the goal will require investment in the building envelope (walls, floors, roof, etc.), operating systems, and renewable sources of energy. The option phase of the project will compare choices based on construction costs and ability to achieve net-zero and a low target of energy use intensity.

  • What about solar?

    • Solar will be part of the assessment of options for the building and the site location. The design team will provide estimates of costs to guide decisions.

Image by Noah Buscher
Money

MONEY & BUDGET

  • What is the cost of the project? 

    • The design team has not yet developed cost estimates for this project. A range that considers renovation, add/reno or new building and related costs will be developed over the next several months with a comprehensive estimate expected to be available by December 2022. Additionally, we expect to have a “not to exceed” estimate by the end of 2022.

  • What is the role of the MSBA granting authority? What will be their share of the project cost?

    • To receive grant support, the MSBA has a rigorous schedule of milestones that our project must meet. At each milestone MSBA experts review our project and will make a final determination of the level of grant they will award the project. The support depends on the proposed project design as well as a variety of other elements, including sustainability and educational programs.

  • How will Amherst pay for the building project?

    • Thanks to the grant from the MSBA, the Town will need to fund only part of the total project cost. Currently, the Town plans to finance all or most of its 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.

    • Because of the way the MSBA grant works, the Town will need to take on debt to cover the Town share of the cost of the project. The funds the Town receives from the MSBA will cover a significant portion of the total project costs.

  • Will the project increase my property taxes?

    • Potentially 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. The Town could fund its share of the debt repayment through a temporary supplemental property tax – called a “debt exclusion” – across the 20 or 30-year term. A debt exclusion must be approved by Amherst voters through a “debt exclusion” vote.

  • 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 levy 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 assessed value of property.) These additional tax revenues pay for debt (principal and interest) borrowed for a specific purpose. 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 for 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.

Money

Quick links (hot link to pages on website):

Upcoming meetings or events:

Project Timeline:

Building Committee members

Project Team: Owner’s Project Manager and Architect

Existing conditions reports:  TO COME, expected by March 2022.

Submit questions or contact us: