On the heels of Wednesday's blessing given to the addition and renovation project by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, project proponents are shifting into high gear preparing for further state requirements and a full-fledged community education effort.
The MSBA announced this week Norton has advanced into the "schematic design phase" of the process, and now can work closely with the state committee to tailor the design of the reconfigured classrooms and two-story addition to both the needs of the town and the requirements of the state. The complete schematic design is due at the state board on April 13.
Greg Smolley of JCJ Architecture told selectmen on Thursday that his firm is about halfway through the schematic design work and is on schedule. The feasibility study, a $600,000 project all on its own, has been accepted, a significant hurdle.
Smolley said the floor plan as undergone some changes as the process has continued, with both the first floor cafeteria and the layout of the kitchen reduced down. Work on the second floor has concentrated on the science and biology labs, identified early in the study as one of the areas most in need of updating in the 1970s era building, as well as the special education rooms and their integration into the rest of the school.
Margaret Wood of Pinck and Co. emphasized the importance of the sewer connection from the high school to the treatment plant, and reminded the board, "We will not be able to expand without that alternative."
The sewer connection will be a separate article at both the June 6 special town meeting and the June 11 ballot election. Both public events will call for a vote on the same four articles, to be funded by a debt exclusion. The building project, estimated now at about $30 million, will be financed through the reimbursement of 60 percent of the price tag by the state, but Wood said the sewer project, at $750,000 to $900,000, while not reimbursable, is a requirement for the whole thing to go forward.
Wood said a previous study by Otter Creek has laid out the groundwork for the sewer connection, and added new calculations indicate including the sewer flow from the elementary school as well as the high and middle schools would put the current treatment plant over capacity. "We are fine tuning that design," she said. "It would not include the elementary school."
Board chairman Robert Kimball, saying he knew there are some people in town who will only hear what they want to hear, urged the public to "put aside your personal opinions and look at the whole - where else would you get 60 cents on the dollar?"
School building committee representative Kevin O'Neil said a binding vote from the MSBA on the project will come on May 25, and after that the town will know the actual amounts involved in the school project itself.
He also said reimbursement from the state happens monthly after money is spent.
O'Neil said he and the committee have been particularly concerned with the safety concerns at the old building, still without a current fire sprinkler system, and noted fire protection is inadequate.
"There is not enough stair width," he said. "The school is nowhere near being compliant with safety standards."
Selectman Brad Bramwell, also a member of the building committee, said the town is responsible for not just the present generation, but future residents as well. "Having a building that's not up to code is deferring that to our children and grandchildren," he said. "It is inexcusable to be racking up these bills - generations before us built these buildings."
For more information on the project, the schedule, and meetings where public input is needed, see the project website, www.nhsbuildingproject.org. A list of the school building committee members is available on the town website, www.nortonma.org.
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