CHESHIRE — In years past, the first Board of Education meeting of the new school year might have been dedicated entirely to the state of existing schools. Kicking off the 23-24 school year, however, Cheshire’s BOE was updated on the status of two schools that do not yet exist.
Both are in the process of transforming from possibility to reality, but harder work still lies ahead, as Richard Gusenburg, chair of the Next Generation School Building Committee, explained on Sept. 7.
Gusenberg announced that the group — meaning the architects, the committee, staff and other team members — has “finished the first of three development phases,” known as the schematic design phase. Tecton Architects, responsible for devising the plans for the two new elementary schools, gave a detailed presentation to the BOE about their progress, including plans for heating and cooling that avoid carbon-based fuels, but that may lead to significant costs.
There are floor plans showing where different “learning communities” will be located. Plans to restore wetlands near Norton by taking out invasive species are also on the table. There are renderings of the floor plan, the bus and car drop-off areas, and the buildings’ exteriors as well, as the firm gets ready for the next phase which project manager Justin Hopkins called “design development.”
The design development phase, Hopkins explained, is “a room by room analysis” and “development of the criteria that goes on in each of the spaces.”
The architects have also begun to consider interior design elements, including a consistent color scheme, the types of flooring and wall finishes that will enhance student performance, energy efficiency, furniture and acoustics, including mandated levels of “sound transmission coefficients” within instructional spaces.
There is also the conceptual aspect of providing a theme for each of the two new schools — “farm and field” for the north end, “woods and trails” for the new Norton.
Certain themes also tie the two buildings together, including “clarity of circulation, views to nature, the ability to bring natural light into the spaces, and the ability to compartmentalize,” Hopkins noted.
A cost estimation exercise, Hopkins added, would follow the design development phase. Following that, construction documentation would be created. This is done, per Hopkins, “so that we can have some assurances during bidding that we’re getting accurate numbers and limiting the amount of potential changes during construction.”
However, Hopkins also admitted that there has been some “cost escalation” as the firm continues its design process.
A slide provided by Tecton showed that the new north end school is projected to cost a total of $89,942,900, or $637 per square foot. The new Norton, with a smaller footprint and fewer students accounted for, would cost $76,656,200, about $649 per square foot.
“Our initial schematic design elements came in above our budgets,” Hopkins explained, adding that the firm “went through a value management process with the (Next Generation School Building Committee).” Hopkins said that the process for the north end school brought projects within the “acceptable” range. The firm plans to do the same thing next for Norton.
“The goal for all these budget considerations and value management considerations,” Hopkins continued, “is to make sure that we’re not compromising curriculum space. The last thing we want to do is impact the spaces that the students are going to be in.”
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan, an ex officio member of the NGSBC, elaborated on that, saying, “We’re really trying to, as a group, meticulously go through, with the guidance of Tecton and Arcadis (construction manager) and O&G (owner’s representative), and really try and hone in on where we can make this the best possible experience for our kids at the greatest value and making sure we stay within our budget.”
The architects continued their community outreach efforts with an appearance at the Cheshire Fall Festival and Marketplace, as well as scheduled meetings regarding the north end school on Sept. 26, Oct. 4, and Oct. 17. Meetings regarding the new Norton School will take place on Sept. 27, Oct. 3, and Oct. 16. More information is available through the Cheshire Public Schools website. Meetings of the NGSBC are available through the Town of Cheshire’s YouTube channel.