First Day Of School Goes To Plan As Key Construction At High School Site Nears Midpoint

Photo: A third of the piles have been installed in phase one of the Belmont Middle and High School project.

It was a long Wednesday, Sept. 4 for Belmont Superintendent John Phelan.

After a busy Tuesday welcoming teachers and staff back to the district after the summer recess, Phelan’s Wednesday began bright and early at Belmont High School where he joined staff and Belmont Police in a new role, as traffic monitors to assist students and parents with the first new parking and drop off scheme since the school opened 49 years ago in 1970.

With the access road which once allowed parents to drop off students at the high school’s main entrance before exiting onto Concord Avenue now a fading memory, cars, SUVs and minivans clogged Underwood Street before doubling back onto Hittinger Street and out through the Trowbridge neighborhood due to the large scale construction of the new middle and high school at the west end of the project.

But with so much that could go so wrong, opening day of the 2019-2020 school year went “very, very well,” said Phelan during the meeting of the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee on Wednesday.

“The wait … was not too long into the [high] school” due in large part to the team of officers from the Belmont Police along with signs produced by the Department of Public Works and balloons used to identify where vehicles could come and go.

“It was good to see the kids back at school,” said Phelan, who when not running a school system of 4,200 students was also tasked with supplying the Building Committee with pizzas and drinks.

“All in a day’s work,” he said pushing a chart into the Homer Building.

While the work of bringing a new class of 9th – 12th graders, the largest and largest construction task to date is moving along quickly as 133 concrete piles have been driven into the ground to anchor the high school wing of the building. Just on Wednesday, 27 “corner” piles were secured, marking out the rough outline of the high school section, according to Mike Morrison, project manager for Skanska, the general contractor.

“We are one-third of the way in Phase 1 of the building,” said Morrison, noting that debris and soil is being removed from the site as construction beginning in and around the site of the school’s pool.

“All is going well,” said Morrison.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Pile Driving At High School Starts Tuesday, Aug. 20

Photo: Pile driving set to start on Tuesday.

Get ready, Belmont. Beginning early next week, the neighbors living near the Belmont Middle and High School construction site will soon be listening to 10 hours a day of “the rockinest, rock-steady beat” of pile driving madness.

That’s the word from Skanska, the project’s general contractor, which announced the long awaited installation of the underpinnings of the new school’s foundation at the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13. The foundation will require a few hundred piles (essentially poles) to transfer the large building loads to the earth farther down from the surface.

According to Project Manager Mike Morrison, the pile driving team will be onsite by Friday, Aug. 16 with the actual installation of the first of the 80 foot piles beginning on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

And the pounding will be a constant for residents and students for the next months. The steady beat of the drill pounding away on the site will run from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

In addition, due to state regulations on the transportation of extremely long piles on highways, residents can expect deliveries traveling on town streets from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Just how long will the steady beat of piles being driven deep into the soil? Morrison would only say the work will continue “through the fall” with no specific end date.

And it will be loud. According to data from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the noise produced when the anvil strikes the strike plate on the pile can generate noise as much as 135 dB, which is somewhere between jackhammer and a jet engine. Even 200 feet from the source, the noise can reach 68 dB.

For some, the vibration and noise can be too much. On the website, the pile driving conducted at the former Lane & Games bowling alley off of Route 2 in North Cambridge a year ago brought a torrid of complaints from Arlington and Cambridge residents.

“Like you, we’re pretty annoyed by hearing it start up every morning in the distance, like the Excedrin headache from @#$%,” wrote David S.

The work will begin close to the school than move outward towards Harris Field and the intersection of Concord Avenue and Goden Street. Prior to the work starting, owners of 43 of approximately 76 residential structures signed up to have the exterior of their properties examined.

John Phelan, Belmont Schools Superintendent, said he and Isaac Taylor, the High School’s new principal, will be on site when the pile driving begins to monitor the noise level. But he doesn’t believe the noise or vibration will affect learning as students are adept at attending classes with up to seven MBTA commuter trains rumble adjacent to the school.

Belmont Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said residents will be provided a heads up on the start of the job via the police department’s “reverse 911” system.

Drillin’ for … Thermals As 7-12 School Project Gets Underway

Photo: They’re drillin’ on the rugby field, lookin’ for geothermal heat.

It could have been mistaken for an oil derrick drillin’ for Texas Tea (1960s cultural reference) a few meters from the track at Harris Field adjacent Concord Avenue.

But what the team was boring 500 feet into the earth since Dec. 12 was to measure the underground thermal properties and used that information to design the geothermal system as part of the heating and cooling system for the new 7-12 grade school building on the site of Belmont High School set for completion in 2023.

It is just one part of a handful of on-site projects now underway under the care of Skanska, the multinational firm which was selected the project’s construction manager this past May.

According to Skanska, preliminary work on the new building is underway to prepare for the beginning of construction in June 2019:

  • Less than a week after town voters approved a $213 million debt exclusion to construct the new school, a complete survey of the entire campus site began on Nov. 14 and ran through Nov. 30.
  • The geothermal test wells will run through Jan. 11, 2019
  • On the same day as the drilling commenced, a trailer housing the project team was moved into the rear of Belmont High School and will remain through June 2019 when construction of the site begins.
  • And the day after the school goes on winter recess, the entryway to the Wenner Field House – from the outside doors near the weight room to the field house – will be closed as the ceiling is removed and fireproofing abatement begins, lasting until New Year’s Eve 2018. 

As for the derricks on the rugby field, three geothermal wells will be installed around the existing Belmont High School for testing. A closed loop HDPE pipe will be installed inside the borehole and the borehole will be completely grouted to form the geothermal well and thermal conductivity testing will begin. A temporary manhole cover will be set over each of the geothermal wells and the area around will be restored upon completion.

Skanska Named New High School Construction Manager; Completes Project ‘Team’

Photo: Skanska USA named construction manager of the new high school.

A familiar face will construct the new Belmont High School as Skanska USA was selected as the project’s Construction Manager by a subcommittee of the Belmont High School Building Committee on Tuesday, May 8.

Subcommittee Chair Patricia Brusch told the Belmontonian the multinational construction and development company headquartered in Sweden with an office in Boston will be officially on board the project “very quickly. Just a matter of days.” 

Skanska is no stranger to Belmont having managed the construction of the 84,000 square-foot Wellington Elementary School on Orchard Street between 2010 to 2011. 

Besides upfront payments, Skanska will receive a two percent of the total cost of the project as its fee, said Brusch.

Brusch said the three candidate firms – Skanska, Suffolk Construction, and Gilbane Building Co. – interviewed on Monday, May 7, were close in the subcommittee’s evaluation and in the bids submitted. But the subcommittee members ranked Skanska first in each category, said Brusch, who indicated the firm’s positive experience building the Wellington was likely the edge that won it the job.

“Each [firm] said they would do what was asked of them, but we knew that Skanska actually did it,” said Brusch, who recalled one example where the firm shut down operations at the Wellington whenever a funeral or memorial service took place at nearly by St. Joseph’s Church without being asked. 

With Skanska’s selection, the major players to build the estimated $290 million project has now been assembled with Skanska joining Daedalus Projects of Boston as Project Manager and Boston’s Perkins+Will as architect/designer.