BHRTS renovation project achieves key milestone

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By Judy Bass

The long-awaited school renovation project at Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton took a critical step forward on November 13, announced Superintendent James Quaglia.

As of that date, all of the school’s nine district towns, including Canton, officially green-lighted the project by giving their approval to Blue Hills to borrow the necessary funds.

bhrts“It was overwhelmingly supported,” said Blue Hills Assistant Superintendent for Business and Personnel Steven Moore.

The $85 million project is scheduled to start in June 2018 and be completed by September 2019.

Quaglia said all of the planned renovations are necessary in order to provide a safe, smoothly functioning, 21st century educational environment. “This is all about ‘need-to-haves’ and not ‘nice-to haves,’” he said.

Elements of the building envelope, such as windows and doors, are “tired, rusty and energy-inefficient,” he pointed out. The vast majority of the building’s mechanical systems and utilities “must be gutted and replaced,” he added.

A sprinkler system has to be installed because adequate fire suppression in a building of this age is a necessity. Moore also noted that the building is not currently accessible to everyone because there is only one elevator.

Due to all of these factors, Blue Hills approached the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) in each of six different years, filing statements of interest intended to get the project off the ground. After issuing several rejections to the school, the MSBA finally indicated its willingness to look into Blue Hills’ proposal three years ago by sending representatives to inspect the building and speak with administrators. The MSBA saw that the design of the facility was very unusual because, in Quaglia’s words, “the HVAC and the glass perimeter walls were integrated,” making it nearly impossible to work on one without also working on the other.

The following year, Blue Hills applied again to the MSBA and was invited into the agency’s limited scope repair pilot program for the specific intent of “repairing, modernizing and replacing the building’s failing systems.”

The next step entailed establishing a School Building Committee to shepherd the project along. In addition to Quaglia and Moore, who serve as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, members of the committee include Director of Facilities Management Gene Mastro, Principal Jill Rossetti, and District School Committee members Eric Erskine, Thomas Polito Jr. and Kevin Connolly.

Other consultants who work closely with the committee are the Owner’s Project Manager (OPM), Dore & Whittier Management Partners, LLC; the architectural firm Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc.; and the construction management firm Consigli Construction Co.

Next came the local approval process for the Blue Hills project. The initial phases — feasibility study, preliminary design, schematic design and detail design — were all funded by $3 million from the school’s operating budget and excess and deficiency funds over time, with no costs passed along to the school’s nine member towns.

On August 23, between the schematic and detail phases, the MSBA took a crucial vote approving the scope and budget of the project — $84.8 million at a reimbursement rate of 55.89 percent.

Three weeks later, on September 14, officials from the whole district attended a breakfast meeting at Blue Hills to be filled in on the project. Then, on September 19, the District School Committee took a vote to authorize the start of a 60-day window during which each district town could be approached to give its permission for Blue Hills to borrow the money that would fund the project.

Quaglia said that every district town had to take “a non-negative action” on the question — either an outright “yes” vote or by taking no action whatsoever, which would be considered the equivalent of a “yes.”

The towns of Avon and Canton both opted for no action, while the town councils of Braintree and Randolph passed the measure. The town meetings of Dedham, Holbrook, Milton, Norwood and Westwood all gave their okay as well.

Quaglia cites a few reasons for the widespread support of the project. First, he noted that many of those same towns had either recently built or renovated their own high schools and therefore understood the situation from “a need perspective.” Second, the towns were affirming the status of Blue Hills’ students as “not just our students, but their students,” said Quaglia.

The superintendent said the school also made an effort from the very beginning to be fiscally prudent. “We said, ‘Here’s what we want to do, let’s hope you see the sense in this and will do whatever you can to support us financially.’”

As for the timeline and cost-saving aspect of the work, thanks to the efforts of Consigli and Dore & Whittier, there will be no expenditures for temporary classroom space and “minimal impact” on the student day and on extracurricular activities, said Moore.

He noted that construction performed during the school year will take place on the second and third shifts, with educational spaces returned to “close to normal” during the day. Work on vocational areas, locker rooms, offices and athletic spaces will be done during the summer.

“We’re going to roll right along,” said Quaglia, adding that he foresees no disruptions for grades 9-12 or the Adult Postgraduate Practical Nursing Program.

However, some aspects of what typically takes place at Blue Hills will be halted during this process. There will be no swimming lessons, Continuing Education classes, or rental of the school’s athletic fields. The campus will be closed at night and on weekends for about 15 to 20 months, and the district is currently seeking an alternative venue to hold its Adult Basic Education classes.

With the renovation project on track to start in seven months, Quaglia and Moore can take time to reflect on its meaning and value, not only for the students at Blue Hills today, but for those who will sit in its classrooms and walk its hallways decades from now.

“We want to keep this organization healthy and alive,” said Moore, “to continue its mission serving students and our communities for the next 50 years.”

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