July 27, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
School Building Committee Vice Chair Ray Estes delivered what he called "exciting" news to the School Committee Monday night: "There's a lot going on with Foster School."
Estes provided an update on the process following the Massachusetts School Building Authority's inviting the Town of Hingham into the Feasibility Phase of the Core Building Program for Foster Elementary School -- and also to participate in its Accelerated Repair Program for replacement windows at Plymouth River School -- several months ago.
As a result, the town is working collaboratively with the MSBA to explore options to either renovate/add on to or replace Foster School with a new facility as part of the process of potentially qualifying for partial reimbursement from the state.
"An owner's project manager is in place, and we are actively engaged in choosing an architect, working hand-in-hand with the MSBA," Estes reported.
The designer selection committee, which includes experienced architects, will interview four candidates on Aug. 3. "Once an architect is in place, we will begin the design process immediately," Estes said.
The building committee will provide an update to the Foster School community and other citizens of the town soon. "I'm sure people are eager to know the next steps and what the timeline will be," he stated.
The targeted completion date if the town is awarded partial reimbursement in the fall of 2024.
Estes also noted that the change in the Foster School administration with the recent resignation of Principal Beth Wilcox is not expected to cause a delay in the process.
School Committee member Liza O'Reilly urged the building committee to bring the Hingham Conservation Department into the loop sooner rather than later to address concerns that have been expressed about wetlands on the Foster School property and flood plain issues.
"Some architects have a particular expertise in designing a site like this one," Estes noted.
He went on to say that he thinks the building design will be a surprise to many "with regard to energy efficiency" and that he will engage the Energy Action Committee and others interested in this part of the process.
"This has been a long time coming," Estes said about the overall project. "We're eager to get going!"
With regard to the PRS window replacement, a Statement of Interest for the project was submitted to the MSBA some time ago. PRS was one of only 25 schools selected for project approval out of a total of 90 SOIs at that time.
Hingham is in the fortunate position of having $1 million in funding available to be put toward this project as negotiated by an earlier select board in connection with the development of the Alliance/Bare Cove development on Beal Street, which reduces the cost to taxpayers. In addition, the Accelerated Repair Program provides for shorter construction and completion schedules.
Hingham Public Schools Director of Business and Support Services John Ferris reported to the School Committee Monday night that the language of an earlier Town Meeting article approved by voters to pay Hingham's share of the window project beyond what the MSBA is expected to contribute (roughly 34 percent) refers to this allocation as being a debt exclusion.
"I was on a call with the MSBA recently to say we never intended that to be the case," Ferris said.
He suggested the School Committee approve using $3.9 million from its approved $62 million Fiscal 2022 budget at an upcoming meeting to keep the project in the running and to have the necessary funds in place by the end of August so the project can go out to bid.
If the School Committee decides to take that route, Town Meeting voters in April 2022 would authorize to move the funds earlier appropriated but mistakenly referred to as a debt exclusion in the earlier Town Meeting vote back into the school budget.
"This would be a great solution to correct this oversight and to keep the project on track," Ferris said.
School Committee Chair Kerry Ni confirmed that "this would not actually affect our budget [in the end]."
If all goes as planned, the windows could be installed next summer.