In July 2016 the Board of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (the “MSBA”) voted to invite the West Springfield School District into the 270-day Eligibility Period for a school building project to renovate or replace the Philip G. Coburn Elementary School located at 112 Southworth Street. Prior to being invited into the program the Town had submitted three successive annual Statements of Interest to the MSBA. A Statement of Interest is essentially an application to be considered for school building assistance funding.
The Philip G. Coburn Elementary School was originally constructed in 1923/24 as a Junior High School and served in that capacity until the West Springfield Middle School was opened in 1998. At that point the elementary school that had occupied the William Cowing School building on Park Street moved into the old Junior High Building which was renamed in honor of the late Philip G. Coburn.
The Coburn Elementary School currently serves the Grade 1 through 5 student population residing in the Coburn school district. This district comprises most of the Merrick District (around Union and Main Streets), both sides of Park Street/Avenue, both sides of Elm Street, and an area on Ashley Avenue off Riverdale Street. In addition the school services the Town’s entire English Language Learner (ELL) population in Grades Kindergarten through 5.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)
The MSBA is a quasi-independent state government authority that operates under the jurisdiction of the State Treasurer and whose mission is “to support the design and construction of educationally-appropriate, flexible, sustainable and cost-effective public school facilities.”
The purpose of engaging in the MSBA process is to obtain state funding assistance for the costs of construction of a new or renovated school. Each community has a different reimbursement rate assigned. For West Springfield the MSBA would provide up to 73% of what they determine to be the eligible costs of a qualifying project.
The MSBA’s process for achieving state funding for a school constructuction project is rigidly prescribed as a series of progressive phases (or modules) each one of which must be completed to the full satisfaction of the Authority before permission is granted to proceed to the next phase. The Authority makes no commitment to the community beyond the duration of any particular phase. The prescribed phases are as follows:
Module 1: Eligibility Period
Module 2: Formation of Project Team
Module 3: Feasibility Study Period
Module 4: Schematic Design Period
Module 5: Project Scope and Budget & Project Funding Agreements
Module 6: Design Development, Construction Documents and Bidding
Module 7: Construction Administration
Module 8: Project Closeout
The Process So Far
The first phase of the project was the Eligibility Phase which concluded in the spring of 2017. During that phase the Town Council voted to fund a Feasibility Study that would recommend a long term solution for the school building. On May 12, 2017 the Board of the MSBA voted to formally invite West Springfield to advance to participate in the Feasibility Study
The second phase was the Formation of the Project Team. During that phase the Town obtained approval for the PCC to serve as the School Building Committee for the project.
The Planning & Construction Committee (“the PCC”), serves as the Town’s standing building committee and meets regularly on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. The PCC works closely with the School Department administration on this project and includes a School Committee representative. Mrs. Pat Garbacik, among its members.
The PCC selected an Owner Project Manager (OPM) to oversee the project design and construction as the Town’s representatives and to guide us through the MSBA process. The Boston firm NV5 was hired to be the OPM. As soon as NV5 was on board and approved by the MSBA the PCC embarked on the process to select an architect to design the project. TSKP Studio from Hartford, Connecticut was selected as the architect following a lengthy process conducted through the MSBA’s Designer Selection Panel on which West Springfield representatives had three of the total thirteen votes.
The third phase/module is the Feasibility Study. As a practical matter, the MSBA actually combines the Feasibility Study and Schematic Design phases as elements of both overlap.
During the Feasibility Study phase the project team examines different options to be considered as potential solutions to the problems identified in the Statement of Interest and which conform to the Education Plan for the Coburn School program which has been developed by the School Department. The options include examination of potential additions and/or renovations to the existing building, looking for alternative sites, and developing a range of configurations for a new building solution. The prescribed “deliverables” during this phase include the Preliminary Design Program (which includes a short-list of locally preferred options for the MSBA’s consideration) and a Preferred Schematic Report (which provides greater detail on the one solution that the community has decided that it wants to pursue).
As of October 1, 2018 the Coburn School Project is approaching the end of Module 3: the Feasibility Study. A Preferred Schematic Report has been submitted to the MSBA. It calls for a newly constructed three-story school building that would house 705 students from Early Childhood through Grade 5. This is much larger than the current Coburn School enrollment of 518 and would include the kindergarten students who live in the Coburn district but currently attend Ashley School as well as the district-wide Early Childhood students who currently attend Cowing School. This solution would allow the Town to replace the Coburn School that was constructed in 1924 as well as the Cowing School that was constructed in 1915/16.
The immediate next steps are as follows:
October 10, 2018 - Meeting in Boston of the of the Facilities Assessment Subcommittee of the MSBA to review our Preferred Schematic Report.
October 31, 2018 - Meeting in Boston of the Board of the MSBA to consider approval of our Preferred Schematic Report.
The Remainder of the Process
Pending a favorable decision of the MSBA Board on October 31, the architects are preparing to develop the design of the preferred schematic. When that work is complete we will advance to Module 5: The Project Scope & Budget and the Project Funding Agreements. At that time the MSBA will determine the scope of the project that they are prepared to support and, based on professional cost estimates, will identify those costs to which they are willing to contribute and they will also specify the reimbursement rate at which they will contribute. A funding agreement will then be drawn up, essentially a financial contract between the MSBA and the Town, and when it is signed the Town will have committed to funding its share of the costs and the MSBA will have committed to their share.
Certain costs of a school construction project are simply not eligible for funding (e.g. site acquisition costs) while some others are capped as a percentage of the overall project costs (e.g. site preparation costs) and others are capped at maximum per-pupil allowances (e.g. for technology and for furnishings and equipment).
Following successful conclusion of Module 5 the project will proceed to Module 6 (Design Development, Construction Documents & Bidding) during which the architects will resolve all the design details and prepare bid-standard documents and drawings specifying every detail of construction. When these are complete the project will be put out to bid and a general contractor and major filed-subcontractors will be selected.
Once a contract has been awarded to a general contractor actual construction begins. This is the start of Module 7 - Construction Administration. This phase will take approximately two years.