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Questions on School Project

robably, we can all agree that the Longmedow High School building has been allowed to fall into a shameful state of disrepair because of a highly questionable policy of "deferred maintenance." The present School Committee is only the most recent in a very long line of School Committees complicit in this foolish and irresponsible policy. Some time ago a (non-representative) School Building Committee was appointed to study the situation and recommend a solution. Thirteen people were appointed. In accordance with state mandate, all but two of the appointees are elected town officials (Select Board or School Committee), are employees of the town, are educators or directly involved in education. Only the remaining two members represent the citizens of Longmeadow at large. Two alternates also were appointed, one of whom is an educator. At a recent public meeting, this non-representative School Building Committee, speaking for the School Committee, decided that Scheme 2B was the most appropriate remedy for the disrepair and deficiencies at the 50 year old high school. Scheme 2B calls for the demolition of 80 percent of the existing building. The remaining 20 percent of the existing building, which includes the existing pool, would be renovated. The demolished portion of the existing building would be replaced with a new structure attached to the renovated pool wing. The project cost, ball park guess, for this solution is $80 million. Scheme 2B was selected over a more reasonable option designated as Scheme 1B which called for rehab and renovation of all of the existing building. The project cost, ball park guess, for Scheme 1B was listed as $81 million. Acceptance of the proposition that rehab and renovation would be more costly than demolition, rehab, renovation and new construction, requires a longer leap of faith than I am willing to make at this time. I challenge the Scheme 1B, $81 million figure, which was presented at the Tuesday meeting. It includes millions of dollars of "contingencies" and is, in my opinion, significantly inflated. My challenge is based upon my 40+ years of professional experience as a registered architect, 20 years of which were devoted almost exclusively to the design and construction of school buildings. At the public meeting on Tuesday evening all but two speakers claimed that only a spanking new building would provide the requisite facilities that would enable our young people to compete in the new world economy. They spoke scornfully about schools in the area that have been refurbished as still "feeling old." And they eagerly advocated that the citizens of Longmeadow trade yesterdays long lived masonry building, terrazzo floors, welded door frames, and structural glazed tile interior for todays steel studs, styrofoam, and drywall. As I watched the meeting on television from beginning to end it became apparent to me that the committee was engaging in a sales operation of a preconceived, School Committee wish list. Perhaps that accounts for the matching projected costs of Schemes 1B and 2B. The meeting closed with reference to formation of sub-groups of the School Building Committee for the purpose of "selling Scheme 2B to the voters." The purpose of a School Building Committee is not to act as a sales agent for the School Committee wish list. The purpose of a School Building Committee is to act as a neutral, independent body, to investigate the situation, assemble the facts, strike a reasonable balance between wants and needs, and present logical, attainable, options to the Town for its consideration. This School Building Committee has failed to assume the appropriate neutral posture. It has also failed to recognize the fact that Longmeadow has close to 200 million dollars of serious and pressing needs in infrastructure which can not be ignored. Evidently it has also payed no attention to the Commonwealth revenue shortfall and reduced State Aid. The members ignore the recent opening of a food pantry in Longmeadow; that we have neighbors who are struggling; that Longmeadow is not immune from the present economic recession. And they close their minds the fact that motivated students of our existing "shabby" high school are receiving a solid education and have no difficulty gaining admission to the colleges of their choice. Probably most of us agree that our 50 year old Longmeadow High School building needs refurbishing, updating, and modernizing in conjunction with a planned, persistent, maintenance program for the future. Realistically, we should agree that the most rational solution is really a choice between schemes 1A and 1B (rehab) rather than the demolition and new construction of Scheme 2B. We should also agree that the proposed Scheme 2B, wish list based, program advocated by the School Committee and School Building Committee, defies reason, exceeds our resources, and flies in the face of common sense. Philip B. Fregeau Longmeadow
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