Board of Education reviews revised concept plan for potential Merriam Avenue School expansion (2/14/17)
At its February 14 special meeting, the Newton Board of Education approved a letter of intent to have EI Associates begin preparing schematic design and DOE submission documents for a potential expansion of the Merriam Avenue School. It was not a formal vote to expand, though it is clear the Board continues to plan in that direction. The Board will consider a formal proposal for services from EI Associates at its next meeting on February 28, 2017.
The labeling of spaces within the school footprint as well as a potential expansion was done for illustrative purposes. The intent was so the Board could see that our current elementary and middle school programs could fit into such a facility. For example, there's been no decision on whether offices will move or specific rooms or even grade levels will be on certain floors.
For further information on the recent history of facilities planning in the Newton Public Schools, please continue on to the sections below.
RECENT MEDIA COVERAGE
In 2010, the Board held public discussions about the state of our school facilities. It was decided at that time to continue to use the Halsted Street building as a middle school for at least the next 5-7 years, plan enough to maintain the facility, but not undertake major renovations until there was greater certainty about its future. Among other things, this led to a decision not to place solar panels on Halsted’s roof during the countywide program, as that would have involved a 15 year commitment.
In 2011, the Board hired EI Associates to do a broad facilities assessment study that identified areas in need of improvement and assigned rough costs to those. That report has guided the Board’s work in prioritizing and budgeting for capital projects, leading to measurable improvement in our school facilities over the past five years. (Facilities Assessment Report March 2011)
In 2014, the Sussex County Freeholders received two demographic studies, detailing the history of, and projections for, population and economic changes in the region. Here is an executive summary of those studies. (Demographic Studies Executive Summary). As an established town center, Newton is poised for smart growth within a wider region that has witnessed overall population decline. In the fall, the Board requested and received a zoning analysis from Parette Somjen Architects that identified the parameters in which any potential expansion could occur to our existing facilities. (Zoning Analysis September 2014)
In 2015, the Board agreed to revisit the facilities discussion and build a longer term vision.
During the summer of 2015, the Board drafted a facilities analysis to determine areas that were believed to be inadequate for either current or future use. That initial effort identified 34 issues in 26 areas from infrastructure to classrooms to core spaces (gym, cafeteria, library, etc.) to parking and traffic flow. As expected, the needs are in line with the age of the buildings; that is, Halsted exhibited the highest level of needs (rating of 31% facility adequacy), followed by the High School (54%), and then Merriam (85%).
After school opened, the Board invited public input. The analysis and an online survey were posted on the district website, and publicized through social media, alert messages, and the Brave News.
Over approximately six weeks, 75 responses were recorded -- 60% from staff, 23% from parents, and the rest from students and community members (School Facilities Survey Responses Fall 2015)
Over 60% of the respondents agreed with the Board’s analysis. Additional input led to further areas of concern and issues being identified
The school ratings were then revised to 30% adequacy for Halsted, 39% for the High School, and 78% for Merriam (Stakeholder Analysis of School Facilities October 2015)
The Board hired an architectural firm to assign rough costs to the identified areas of inadequacy. EI Associates conducted that task and presented cost estimates publicly on March 8, 2016 (Capital Project Cost Estimates March 2016, see Individual Project Costs below).
Here is a list of district-wide scenarios that were considered, including all estimated projects from the EI Associates report. These were for discussion purposes only, subject to modification based on public input. Community members were encouraged to send their thoughts to the Board of Education in a letter to the district office or by email through our district website.
Scenario 1: Configure grades to make Halsted an elementary school
Convert Halsted Middle School into a pre-K through grade 3 school and Merriam Avenue School into a grade 4 through grade 8 school. Implement identified capital projects at Merriam and the High School as well as projects appropriate for elementary grades at Halsted. Estimated Cost: $27,787,700
Scenario 2: Use Halsted in a more limited capacity
Convert Halsted Middle School into a pre-K center and district offices. Add on to Merriam Avenue School to accommodate Kindergarten through grade 6. Add on to Newton High School to accommodate grade 7 through grade 12. Implement identified capital projects at Merriam, Halsted and the High School. Estimated Cost: $33,431,900
Scenario 3: Keep Halsted as a middle school
Implement identified capital projects at Merriam, Halsted (including option 2), and the High School. Estimated Cost: $37,587,700
Scenario 4: Sell Halsted and build a new middle school
Construct a new middle school on recently purchased property at West End Avenue contiguous with the High School property to accommodate grade 6 through grade 8 and district offices. Construct a small addition at Merriam to accommodate pre-K through grade 5. Implement identified capital projects at Merriam and the High School. Sell Halsted -- estimated cost does not include the sale value of Halsted, which is unknown at this time. Estimated Cost: $60,998,900
INDIVIDUAL PROJECT COST ESTIMATES -- projections in thousands
Merriam Avenue School ($4,611)
Construct access drive from Gardner Avenue to improve traffic flow ($40)
Add modular storage building on property ($110)
Replace casework in original section of building for additional storage ($186)
Construct parking lot accessible from Gardner Avenue ($220)
Install irrigation system and add topsoil to fields ($265)
Replace windows in original section of building ($1,500)
Install central air conditioning in original portion of building ($2,290)
Newton High School ($14,636)
Reconfigure cafeteria serving and food prep areas ($30)
Convert existing tennis/basketball courts to parking area ($63)
Add modular storage building on property ($110)
Expand nurse’s office ($131)
Expand athletic training rooms ($175)
Upgrade old restrooms ($232)
Replace pneumatic heating controls with modern digital system ($278)
Expand choral room ($296)
Replace folding partition in gymnasium ($340)
Relocate tennis and basketball courts ($420)
Expand cafeteria ($945)
Upgrade athletic practice fields using existing space and new property ($1,000)
Upgrade remaining science labs ($1,218)
Replace windows in all rooms, except in upper E and G levels ($1,548)
Upgrade auditorium HVAC, interiors, and sound/lighting systems ($1,700)
Expand gymnasium ($2,610)
Install central air conditioning ($3,540)
Halsted Middle School ($19,223) -- does not address parking/traffic flow issues
Upgrade finishes in choral room ($82)
Replace some existing lockers and add additional lockers ($97)
Add modular storage building on property ($110)
Relocate nurse’s office ($116)
Replace casework for additional storage ($176)
Mill and pave outdoor physical education area ($295)
Repurpose computer lab to expand library ($345)
Upgrade restrooms with efficient, code compliant fixtures ($405)
Renovate science rooms ($850)
Replace windows in all rooms ($1,107)
Upgrade heating infrastructure - boiler, pneumatic controls ($1,280)
Construct an ADA compliant elevator ($1,594)
Install central air conditioning ($2,116)
Convert existing gymnasium, library and cafeteria into seven classrooms and choral room space, convert existing choral room into classroom. Construct 18,500 sf addition to include a gymnasium, cafeteria, library, and support spaces. ($10,650)
The cost estimates report was published on the district website. The Board invited public input about the scenarios and cost estimates through letter or email as stated above.
A focus group of those who took the fall survey and offered to participate was held on April 12, 2016.
The Board and members of the public toured the West End Avenue site prior to its regular meeting on April 26, 2016. A special public comment period on school facilities was included on the Board meeting agenda and further discussion was held at the Board's meetings on May 10 and May 24. Members of the community were invited to comment after those discussions as well.
The Board took multiple, regular forms of public input and approved a plan on June 28, 2016, to guide the district’s facilities improvement over the coming years.
May 24, 2016 - The Board approved $15,000 for EI Associates to conduct a school feasibility study based on the strategic plan. The intent was to determine whether the West End Avenue site could support a new school building, how many students could be housed there, and how such a building footprint might best be situated. The Board also authorized the business administrator to arrange for a topographical study of the West End Avenue site and surrounding areas to provide clarity to the school feasibility study.
June 6, 2016 - The Superintendent and Business Administrator met with Town Appraiser Mike Holenstein to walk through the Halsted Street School and informally discuss its condition and potential future uses and value. The Board was briefed on this discussion at its June 28 meeting.
June 28, 2016 - The Board approved the Strategic School Facilities Plan, reaching consensus that:
Halsted Street School is not part of our future plans as a school facility. Concerns were expressed about the cost to maintain the facility for non-school use -- offices, community center, special programs, etc.
A new middle school should be constructed on the West End Avenue property. District and CST offices should be planned for the new school or as part of a small addition at Merriam.
A community schools model, which includes space for health and social service providers inside the schools, will be studied in order to inform facility design.
The Plan articulates the following action steps:
Gather information to sharpen the plan by August 2016.
Develop a Newton community schools model by January 2017.
Confirm actual costs for identified facilities projects by March 2017.
Select projects that fit within an approved budget by June 2017.
Propose referendum for selected facilities projects by August 2017.
Begin facilities construction within one year following a successful referendum.
August 23, 2016 - EI Associates presented its school feasibility study to the Board. Public comments were taken and questions were addressed by the Board. NOTE: This is a conceptual step to address whether the site may be suitable for a school building that could meet the intent of the strategic plan. None of the drawings represent any approved plan. Further investigation will be needed before specific design elements can be considered. The following conceptual documents were presented:
Middle School Site Drawing 8-23-16 (conceptual) - Includes new three-story middle school building and new HS tennis/basketball courts
Merriam Avenue Site Drawing A 8-23-16 (conceptual) - Includes additional classrooms to house Grade 5 plus spaces for board offices, child study team offices, and community school activities; vehicle access from Trenton Place and Gardner Avenue; and new parking areas off Trenton Place and Merriam Avenue
Merriam Avenue Site Drawing B 8-23-16 (conceptual) - Same as above except parking area is moved from Trenton Place to Gardner Avenue to consolidate all playgrounds behind the school.
December 13, 2016 - The Board of Education approved EI Associates to conduct a feasibility study of two alternative options: an expansion at Merriam Avenue School to house grades pK-8; and a smaller expansion at Merriam for grades pK-6 plus another at Newton High School to house grades 7-12. This follows information shared and discussed at previous board meetings regarding district debt capacity and potential state aid for facilities, that revealed a wide gap between the costs of a new middle school and the financial resources of the district. The study approval was reported in the NJ Herald.
January 24, 2017 - EI Associates presented the Board of Education with conceptual site plans for two options: an expansion at Merriam Avenue School to house grades pK-8; and a smaller expansion at Merriam for grades pK-6 plus another at Newton High School to house grades 7-12. The plans are linked below: