Photo: Thomas Gatzunis (left) and Richard Marks of the Daedalus Projects Company.
More than 100 residents braved the cold rain Thursday night, April 6, to head to the Beech Street Center to get an early look at the progress of the construction/renovation of a new Belmont High School.
And if the albeit limited number of comments were any indication what the public is thinking, it constructs a school which will meet the needs of a growing student population but don’t go overboard.
“Keep on budget,” said John O’Connor from Precinct 5. “It should be a good job well done” but done so responsibly.
“That’s the biggest thing,” he said.
The turnout was a welcomed surprise for Belmont High Building Committee Chair William Lovallo who arranged for the meeting to be held in the evening as opposed to the committee’s typical 7:30 a.m. meeting time.
“It was impressive to see this much interest so early on in the process,” said Lovallo, who is leading his second school building committee having chaired the construction of Wellington Elementary School. Much of the curiousness related to early estimates replacing the nearly 50-year-old structure will require a debt exclusion of between $80 to $200 million depending on how many grades will attend the school.
Thursday’s meeting was the opportunity for the building committee to announce the town’s Owners Project Manager as Lovallo introduced Founder and President Richard Marks and Senior Project Manager Thomas Gatzunis of the Daedalus Projects Company of Boston.
The OPM was hired by the Committee to represent the town during the design and construction phases of the building’s creation.
The town hired a familiar face with Daedalus and Gatzunis. Daedalus was the project manager for the construction of the Chenery Middle School 20 years ago (for $20 million!). For many longer-tenured residents, Gatzunis is remembered as a Belmont town employee for 32 years, rising to become the town’s director of community development.
“Tom has institutional knowledge of Belmont, its approvals process, and its public affairs challenges,” said Lovallo, who said Gatzunis’ presence was a major factor why Daedalus was selected. Daedalus’ Shane Nolan will be the on-site project manager.
Daedalus’ Shane Nolan will be the day-to-day on-site project manager for the High School.
“It is great to be back in Belmont,” Marks told the Belmontonian, who noted the team is currently building a $60 million STEM 6-12 grade school in Boston and managed the construction of the $101 million Franklin High School that opened two years ago and a new co-located middle school/renovated high school in Rockland for $82 million.
Gatzunis said that cost control and keeping the project on a schedule will be two of the most important functions he and Daedalus will provide the town.
“[Clients] get angry with me … because I’m constantly that guy saying, ‘We can’t do it'” whether some aspect of the project is too expensive or they need to keep on a tight deadline.
“It’s part of what I do is to have people angry with me. That’s why you hired me,” said Gatzunis.
The next “big step” said Marks for the Building Committee and Daedalus is the hiring of an architect which will a hired through a collaborative process between the town and the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is funding up to 40 percent of the eligible cost of the new school.
While the architect will be creating separate designs for the different grade groups being proposed, Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan reiterated to the audience a talk he gave residents, parents, PTOs, and students which the one scenario alleviating the stress of overcrowding in the elementary and middle schools would be the 7th grade through 12th-grade high school.
While there are obvious questions about placing a wide-age range of students on one campus, Phelan said through careful planning; a larger school could prove beneficial educationally.
Phelan is inviting the public to hear from Education Facilitator Frank Locker on May 4 and 5 on just such a scenario.
Residents were interested in the 7-12 grade option, with Mary Lewis liking how the district is “thinking outside the box” suggesting if the 7-12 grade option is approved the Chenery Middle School should be turned into an elementary school, creating five K-6th grade schools in Belmont, an idea that got a positive reaction.
Phil Thayer of Precinct 6 strongly suggested that the new school have a net zero energy footprints with the use of solar and energy-saving mechanicals.
Holding his young son’s hand, Han Xu advised that a new school be functional, sacrificing on most architectural features and building fixtures, going so far as suggesting a new five grade school doesn’t need an auditorium.
“I know the trend in education construction is to be up-to-date technically but most kids already have the devices they need,” said Xu, who is a structural engineer who has worked on university buildings.
“You can buy an Apple but it is quite expensive, or you can buy a Dell which can do all the same [tasks]. That’s how the new school should be built,” said Xu.