Wing School Repairs Top $30 Million; Town Considers Its Options
By: Mary Stanley
At a minimum, it will cost at least $30 million just to make necessary repairs to the Henry T. Wing School and that price tag does not include any amenities such as additional classroom space or improvements that will create optimal conditions for learning in the 21st century.
This week, representatives from Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, Inc., the firm hired to complete a comprehensive study of the Wing School's building needs, mechanical and electrical systems, and classroom needs met with the school committee and board of selectmen to present their findings.
Although not a surprise to any of the selectmen, the news was not good. More than ten percent of the classrooms do not meet the state school building authority's minimum size standards, many windows in the oldest part of the school are inoperable, the school's roof is in need of repair, electrical and plumbing systems are beyond their life expectancy.
And the list goes on.
David J. Poinelli, architect and educational planner with Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, said that with only one functioning boiler, the school’s heating system is insufficient.
"If the boiler should fail, the school would have to close down until repairs can be made. All schools today have more than one boiler," he said.
He went on to say that the school's handicapped accessibility is limited at best. He said there are numerous ramps throughout the building that are too steep and several bathrooms that are not handicapped accessible. Although there are no hazardous conditions, the building contains asbestos and there is lead pain in many locations throughout the school, including some handrails. And the building lacks fire sprinklers.
According to projections in a report provided by the New England School Development Council, student enrollment is expected to decline by 328 students district-wide over the next ten years. But that declining enrollment does not reduce the need for this school.
"The bottom line is even with current declines and projections for future declines, you still need three K-8 schools," Mr. Poinelli said.
He presented the board with three options for addressing the needs of the building.
He said the town could opt to make only necessary repairs, which would include roof and window replacement, the addition of a fire sprinkler system, replacement of the plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems and handicapped accessibility in all areas of the school, with the exception of the original building built in 1927.
Mr. Poinelli told the board that because many of the classrooms in the 1927 building are undersized, it would be difficult to make that part of the school handicapped accessible.
That’s why Mr. Poinelli recommended removing students from the old portion of the building.
"I say turn that building over to the town... it should be severed from the school," he said.
"Now we've just inherited another old town building," said Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Dana P. Barrette.
Mr. Poinelli said the district could take the newer portions of the Wing school and build another addition. Repairs would would still need to be made, including fixing the roof, but classrooms could be added to accommodate a total of 853 students. Existing rooms could be upgraded so that they meet the needs of teachers and students in today's educational environment.
"A school today requires more square footage per student than a school built 20 years ago. There are more programs and technological demands," Mr. Poinelli said.
This option would come in at a price of about $42.7 million.
Another option — similar to the last one but smaller in scale — would accommodate only 692 students. This option is estimated to cost $39.5 million.
Mr. Poinelli pointed out that the Massachusetts School Building Authority would pay nearly 49 percent of the costs for the renovations and repairs.
On Wednesday night, the school board asked if the scope of this study could be expanded to include looking at the high school, Forestdale and Oak Ridge schools to see if additions, renovations, or reconfigurations of classrooms could be made at any of those schools to accommodate the students who attend the Wing school.
Mr. Poinelli said that expanding the study to include the other schools would not be as difficult as the comprehensive study done at the Wing school.
"That process involved a lot of crawling around the walls and seeing what was wrong with it. The other school buildings won't need that kind of forensic work," he said.
Selectmen directed Assistant Town Manager Douglas A. Lapp to go back to the School Facilities Assessment Committee to discuss the expanding the study to include the other schools and to define what will be included in the study.
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