Bell Coffin Gerry Feasibility Study | Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Have questions that aren’t answered here? Please email us at bcgproject@marbleheadschools.org. We will do our best to update this FAQ on an ongoing basis as additional questions are asked and the projects progresses.

Glossary of Terms 

HISTORY:

This project represents the final phases of the Marblehead School Building Master Plan that has (over the last twenty years) addressed the high school, middle school, Village and most recently the Glover school with the goal of achieving parity of educational facilities across the district.

The Coffin and Gerry schools, particularly the Gerry building have a number of ongoing issues regarding the their ability to support modern educational programs. In 2006, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) identified the Gerry building as Level 4 (the lowest possible score) indicating the need for repair or replacement. Today, 12 years later, it remains one of just 23 schools in the state with this ranking.

The problems with Gerry were documented in the Statement of Interest submitted to the MSBA. Some of the problems resulted in the recent crisis and emergency closure. The building is 112 years old and while it has had regular maintenance it has never been fully refurbished. As such, classrooms, the library, special education, gym are all significantly undersized. Kindergarten classrooms are almost half the state’s recommended size to accommodate appropriate learning centers. The library is just a tenth of the average state standard. There are no cafeteria facilities. Storage rooms are being used for educational activities and individual tutoring often takes place in the hallway.

The roof, windows, flooring, interior walls and exterior walls are all in need of significant refurbishment. The boiler and HVAC systems are antiquated and unreliable. Given the older, under insulated-building design the educational environment is frequently hot or cold. Additionally, the building is not ADA Compliant which means children with any physical challenges must attend school outside their own district. To bring the building up to code (without addressing any of the other issues described above) would cost over $13M.

Coffin too has core issues as documented in the Statement of Interest and has been categorized as a Level 3 school by the state. The original building was built in 1949 and the addition of the annex was built in 1963. It has an undersized gym and library and aging, increasingly problematic utilities and is unsuited to accessibility needs. The plumbing is showing signs of age. The boiler and HVAC systems are also increasingly unreliable. Like Gerry, the under-insulated building is frequently hot or cold. Electrical systems are outdated and in many cases still use fuses rather than circuit breakers. The built-up roofs on both the main building and annex are past their expected lifespan and need replacement. The pitch slate roof above the library section is original to the 1949 building and several shingles need replacement. There is not enough space in the remaining Marblehead school elementary system to accommodate Gerry students at a modern education level for the long term.

Given the enrollment trends throughout the district and the age and condition of the Bell School buildings, the MSBA recommended the Bell School be added to the feasibility study. As part of the process the MSBA looks at the inventory of all the buildings in the district and saw Bell as a future project that should be considered now.

Lower Bell (built in 1958) and Upper Bell (built in 1970) have a number of issues that need to be addressed. Boilers at both buildings are well past their life span. Heating control systems are in poor shape often leading to overheating issues. The roof, electrical systems, windows and air conditioning systems also need replacement. The building is also not up to current ADA Compliant requirements.

Under the current administration the Gerry building has been maintained. In fact recently as 2010, a substantial electrical project was undertaken within the school. As a very old building however, the building needs extensive capital repairs. The district is also cognizant that once a certain level of refurbishment spend occurs, state law requires the building brought to code. As the feasibility study has shown this would be a substantive and expensive project (at least $13M). In recent years the district has also been balancing the local community’s strong desire to keep Gerry going with the need to be thoughtful and not wasteful with its limited maintenance funds.

FEASIBILITY STUDY PROCESS:

A feasibility study is a requirement of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) in order to qualify for state-funded reimbursement for any future building project. It is the first step in determining a long-term solution for schools not currently meeting the state’s educational facility standards.

The MSBA is the state authority that administers and funds a program of grants for Massachusetts school projects. The MSBA mandates a multi-step rigorous study and approval process (encompassed within the feasibility study) in order to provide Marblehead a reimbursement of 32.47% of the eligible study costs.

The feasibility study is completed by a designer architect under the management of an Owner's Project Manager (OPM). The OPM is hired by the School Building Committee (SBC).

In 2016, Marblehead voters approved $750,000 to conduct a Feasibility Study “to analyze in-depth the design options and costs for renovation and /or reconstruction of the Elbridge Gerry School, which study shall explore and investigate the advantages and/or disadvantages of district reorganization options, for the Elbridge Gerry School.” As the study progressed the SBC further investigated the conditions of our K-3 schools to develop a cost effective, sustainable and educationally appropriate solution to the aging elementary schools. The School Building Committee has no preconceived solutions and has been investigating renovation, renovation and addition, and new construction options.

The study includes but is not limited to an in-depth analysis of the current electrical, mechanical, structural, safety, code compliance, building envelope, energy management, enrollment and educational programming/curriculum needs of the K-3 schools, as well as the conceptual and schematic designs and drawings for the solution determined to be most feasible.

The in-depth analysis of the current condition of the schools takes approximately 6-9 months. Upon completion of the first phase, the SBC, OPM and Designer Architect will work with the MSBA on determining the long-term solution for the schools. The second phase of the study will include the conceptual and schematic designs and drawings for the solution selected and will take an additional 6 to 12 months. The total length of time for the study is 18-24 months.

The SBC is required by the MSBA to be made up of town representatives with backgrounds from construction, architecture, landscape and education as well as the town administrator, the district superintendent of schools, a school committee member, the school principals, district schools' facility management director, at least one teacher from the school, a member of the finance committee or local budget official, and a representative from an office authorized by law to construct school buildings.

OPTIONS EXPLORED AND EVALUATION PROCESS:

Twenty-one design options and test fits have been discussed and evaluated over the course of 6 months of Building Committee meetings, several School Committee meetings, and two public forums. Click the dates to see the detailed test fit presentations from the December 18, 2017, January 9, 2018 and January 18, 2018 SBC meetings.

The SBC focused on identifying the most financially responsible and educationally sound option using the following criteria: educational delivery/educational programming, geographic location in town, parking (offsite, onsite queuing, stacking), design flexibility, outdoor play area, cost, traffic/neighborhood impact, scale/massing/daylight, regulatory risk/complexity, and student impact during construction.

The design options explored and evaluated include:

  • 1 Gerry Code Upgrade as required by MSBA
  • 1 Gerry (160 Option) as required by MSBA
  • 2 Gerry (450 Options)
  • 4 Coffin (160 Options)
  • 3 Coffin (450 Options)
  • 3 Bell (450 Options)
  • 1 Beacon Green (160 option)
  • 1 Bud Orne (160 Option)
  • 2 Bud Orne (450 Options)
  • 1 Reynolds Playground (160 Option). Taken out of contention prior to presentation.
  • 1 Reynolds Playground (450 Option). Taken out of contention prior to presentation.
  • 1 combined Coffin Gerry (290 Option) and 1 Bell (160 Option)

As part of the feasibility study, the MSBA works with the SBC to determine enrollment projections. As part of that analysis, data such as fertility and birth rates, census figures, fluctuations in out-of-district enrollment patterns, etc. are examined. Marblehead’s 10-year enrollment projections for K-3 across the district is projected to be 800 students. In fact, we already see evidence of this decline in enrollment with the Gerry and Bell kindergarten classes (at 3 each vs. historically 4 at each school). To see the full details of the enrollment projections please see the Enrollment Certificate Letter from the MSBA.

  • The Reynolds site was removed because it is designated as a park by the state and with that comes constraints to build.
  • The Green Street site was also removed from consideration early on because of the size and configuration of the site and wetlands throughout various areas of the site.
  • Renovating Gerry was not be a reimbursable project so it was removed from consideration.
  • An addition/renovation of Gerry was removed due to the available square footage of the site. State regulations for classroom sizes, handicapped accessibility and more made the tight historic district site not accommodating. To meet MSBA requirements a three-story structure would be built atop the current playground. In addition to being out of character with the neighborhood, the student experience would still be suboptimal compared to other options with far inferior outdoor play spaces. The beloved and historic facade of the building would be lost to accommodate any new design.
  • All of the other 160 student school options (including the combined 290 add/reno at Coffin and 160 reno at Bell) were removed because it would mean a school with 2 classrooms/grade for a total of 8 classrooms; more itinerant staff/travel time interferes with scheduling; limited opportunities for professional learning communities; limited special education classrooms; any expansion would need to be on the roof.
  • Addition/renovation of 450 student school at Coffin was removed because the site was determined to be too small necessitating a three-story structure which would be out of character with the neighborhood; parking concerns from the needed use of ROW (pull-in) parking on Turner and Shepard Roads; an outdoor play area much smaller than state recommendations.
  • Addition/renovation of 450 student school at Bell was removed because of risks and delays associated with a renovation; programmatic layout inefficiencies; significantly short on stacking spaces needed for drop-off and pick-up; split play areas; only classroom expansion option would be over the kitchen roof.

Gerry is a beloved and historic town institution. Many parents, students and teachers carry a deep, emotional attachment to the building and the community it represents. Given the schools age, it has served multiple generations of families. Unfortunately, the Gerry school is not providing the educational physical environment offered in our other schools. A building built to the norms of 1906 education is just not able to adapt to those of 2018 and beyond.

That being said, the community requested that the committee look into how to keep three elementary schools (Glover, Bell and a combined Coffin Gerry). The SBC examined the logistics, challenges and costs associated with a two school project at their Jan 18, 2018 meeting and ultimately determined it to be an extremely costly option that would carry a smaller MSBA reimbursement percentage and the district would face the same challenges described above with a 160 student school.

As noted above small schools are now more expensive to build, relatively, than larger schools. It is not fair to ask all the taxpayers of Marblehead to pay more to maintain a small school environment in one part of town. This is especially true when, in another part of town, the hard decision to close another small community school has been made and the students are now benefiting from a larger combined facility. We expect, as happened with Glover/Eveleth, that the new school community will bring the best of Bell, Coffin and Gerry together.

450 student new 86K SF, 2-story school at Bell. 450 student new 86K SF, 3-story school at Bud Orne (Contingent on land swap for Eveleth. See Town Meeting 2018 FAQ section for details).

Based on enrollment projections and capacity at Glover, the 450-student school is the logical size for combined Bell, Coffin and Gerry populations. As it is a similar size to Glover, it would result in two balanced elementary schools for the town that are of similar square footage and facility quality. Like Glover, the new 450-student school would have 5 classrooms per grade with class size between 18-23 students/class. Currently there are 4 classrooms per grade at Glover and the other classrooms are being used for the preschool and special education space. The increase in the square footage between the Glover school and the proposed new school is to address additional special needs educational space. 400+ students is also the tipping point to achieve benefit from scale in construction where smaller schools tend to be more expense on a per student basis. The district would also benefit operationally with 2 elementary buildings versus 5 today.

  • Flexibility in classroom placements
  • Full-time staff – fewer itinerants
  • More flexibility in scheduling specials
  • Professional learning communities with five classrooms per grade
  • Opportunity to create additional programs
  • Special education classrooms housed within the building
  • Easy classroom expansion

We are not at the point of having estimated costs yet but have comparative costs for the options that have been considered. See page 3 of the SBC meeting presentation on January 18, 2018 for details.

Roughly $4M based on a cost comparative analysis. The additional cost at Bell is primarily due to its larger site size and would include development of larger playing fields and parking.

The total project cost estimate will include all construction costs - site work, playgrounds, and demolition of the existing school. It also includes building fees, construction-related testing costs, construction contingencies and new furniture and educational technology equipment. It does not include the Eveleth property demo, remediation and development costs should a land swap with Bud Orne take place.

The total project cost estimate will include all construction costs - site work, playgrounds, and demolition of the existing school. It also includes building fees, construction-related testing costs, construction contingencies and new furniture and educational technology equipment. It does not include the Eveleth property demo, remediation and development costs should a land swap with Bud Orne take place.

On March 6, 2018 traffic studies were conducted at drop-off and pick-up at Coffin (since there isn’t a school at Bud Orne currently) as well as Shepard and Evan roads and West Shore Drive. Additionally the traffic consultants studied drop-off and pick-up at the Bell School including the area and roads surrounding the school and West Shore Drive. The study did not suggest that there were any traffic issues that would prevent either of the sites from being selected for a new school. Additionally as part of the study, the Mariner traffic study that was conducted for that project and the traffic study conducted for the new Tower school parking/loop were also reviewed and incorporated into the analysis of the area around Bell School and were shown to have minimal impact. For complete details, see the traffic study presented at the March 20th SBC meeting.

With a larger school and student population comes opportunities such as on-site before and after school programs that could alleviate some of the traffic concerns at regular pick-up and drop-off times. Additionally, if needed, the school department will consider staggering school start and end times to help with traffic and parents dropping off children to multiple locations throughout town. It is also important to note that the new school drop off designs would include a loop that allowed for stacked cars and queuing.

Test borings are being conducted at Bell on 3/15 and Bud Orne on 3/19 to evaluate the ledge and soil conditions at both sites. Additionally the perimeter of the wetland at Bud Orne will be flagged to clearly delineate the area and identify the required buffer area.

TOWN MEETING 2018:

The School Department already has jurisdiction over the Bell School site so there is no land swap needed for that site. The Bud Orne site is currently managed and maintained by the Marblehead Recreation and Parks Department. If the Building Committee decides that the Bud Orne site is the preferred option, the Town would have to approve the transfer of the Bud Orne site to the School Department (Warrant Article 37) AND the transfer of the Eveleth School site to the Recreation and Parks Department (Warrant Article 38) including the appropriation of funds to demolish the Eveleth building and remediate the site for Recreation and Parks needs.

If the Building Committee selects the Bell site as the preferred option then the Warrant Articles at Town Meeting would be indefinitely postponed and no land swap would take place.

If the town does not approve the land swap, then the Building Committee will have to go back to the MSBA and formulate a plan B and resubmit that as their preferred option before the MSBA’s June meeting. If approved by the MSBA, that option would then be developed and presented at Town Meeting 2019.

The land swap only goes into effect:

  1. If the Building Committee selects Bud Orne as the preferred option AND
  2. If the Town votes to approve it by a ? majority at Town Meeting May 7, 2018 and a subsequent override vote in June 2018 for the costs to tear down Eveleth and remediate the site AND
  3. If a final school plan is approved by a ? majority at Town Meeting in May 2019 and a subsequent override vote in favor by 50% in June 2019.

Estimated costs to demolish the Eveleth School and abatement of the site to be in a condition to turn over to the Recreation and Parks Dept comes to an estimated $450k. The Recreation and Parks Department has estimated $867k in additional costs to develop the site into athletic fields. These costs will be shared in greater detail at Town Meeting 2018 and included in Warrant Article 38.

School properties are owned by the Town but managed by the School Department. If the School Department determines that the schools are no longer needed for educational purposes, those buildings and sites would be turned back to the Town. What happens to those building and sites once they have been turned back to the Town would be up to the voters to determine at a future Town Meeting.

Not directly. As explained above, the School Department would first have to determine if they need the buildings anymore based on the needs of the district (for swing space and educational facilities). And if they do take a school offline, the decision of what happens to those buildings would be put to a vote at a future Town Meeting under a Warrant Article sponsored by the Town.

NEXT STEPS:

As part of the Building Committee’s next steps they will look into the best option for students displaced while the construction of a new school is taking place

The School Department is required to offer busing to students who they live 2 or more miles from a school. If the Bud Orne site is chosen, only students who live on the Neck will need to be bused. If the Bell site is chosen, students who live on the Neck and those on the northernmost tip of Marblehead (Peach’s Point area) would need to be bused. The costs of busing are wrapped into estimated project costs.

As noted above there will be test borings conducted at both of the sites to investigate potential ledge issues. Additionally, pre-blast land surveys would be available for residents within a certain radius of the blast site and they would be used as a basis should an abutter file a claim.

Yes, minimally. Demo of the Bell buildings is estimated to take just 2-3 months.

Despite physical differences in the buildings, all students in any given grade level across the district use the same curriculum, same text books, receive the same services and are taught to the same state standards. As for the building, the Coffin School and Bell will continue to be maintained until a new school is completed. Additionally the Superintendent presented a recommendation for the long term plan of the Gerry School at School Committee on March 22, 2018 and the School Committee will vote on that recommendation in April. The outcome of that decision will impact plans for where students will go to school in the 2018-2019 school year.

The vote in 2019 would be for the project as well as the costs. The cost of the project will not be determined until the schematic design in completed and approved by the MSBA which is still months away. Ultimately it is up to the building committee to decide if it is in the best interest of the project to request a Special Town Meeting sooner.

In June the project is moved into the design development phase during which the design and drawings are further refined. This is followed by the construction documents phase when the construction bid documents are prepared by the architect. Construction could possibly start in the summer of 2020 with a possible completion date of summer of 2022. The earliest a new school would be open is Fall of 2022.

Due to a slowly improving economy and Marblehead's AAA bond rating, borrowing costs are still at historic lows and, due to the very competitive building climate, construction costs remain low. These costs, however, are currently on the rise and a delay will likely increase project costs. Additionally there is no guarantee of state funding in the future if the project is not approved.

At the February 12, 2018 School Committee meeting the administration shared an update of the Gerry building closing through the end of this school year and next steps. For full details see the presentation from that meeting. The Superintendent made a recommendation for the future of the Gerry school at the School Committee’s March 22, 2018 meeting and the School Committee will vote on that recommendation at a subsequent meeting in April.

For additional questions please email bcgproject@marbleheadschools.org.