Neary Building Committee Update (Updated)

Moving to Feasibility Phase; Seeking new members with engineering/architectural/construction experience; Updates on enrollment and costs

Above: The committee for the Neary Building project is looking for new members with helpful expertise (images cropped from Facebook and Town flyer)

Last spring, voters approved the Town’s efforts to study a potential school building project.

That project was just approved by the Mass School Building Authority to enter a new project phase. So, it’s time for an update — including the committee’s call for new members with relevant experience.

New Project Phase

The Neary Building Committee has been seeking MSBA funding support for renovating or replacing Neary School and closing one of the Town’s other two elementary schools (Woodward or Finn). The MSBA recently approved that Southborough successfully completed all of the required documents for its “Eligibility Phase” that began last summer.

The Town is now entering the “Feasibility Study” phase. That means the committee will now begin to spend funds approved by Annual Town Meeting in May 2022.

The committee needs to hire an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) and a design firm to help them. Work in this phase includes documenting the district’s education program, an initial space needs summary, and existing conditions. They will also need to establish design parameters and evaluate alternatives. 

According to a recent announcement, the committee will examine three grade-level configurations for Neary School:

  1. maintaining the current arrangement of Grades 4 and 5,
  2. expanding to include Grades 3-5, and
  3. expanding to include Grades 2-5. 

They will also explore all potential options for renovating or rebuilding the school. And they will study the possibility of consolidating the lower grades into one remaining elementary school and decommissioning the other.

On a parallel track, the Community Center Committee’s work includes consideration of using Woodward or Finn to house Town offices and facilities for services like Recreation, the Senior Center and Library.

[Editor’s Note: On a third track, parallel to the Community Center work, the Town submitted a letter of interest to the state last week for potential inclusion in its next round of Library building construction and renovation project grants. That was just to keep the possibility alive, not a commitment to submitting a grant application. Stay tuned for news on that.]

Membership Changes and Call for Volunteers

Neary Building Committee call for volunteers neededThe committee is seeking volunteers with engineering, architectural, or construction experience to apply to be members. (If you are interested in volunteering, click here to use the Town’s New Citizen Activity form.)

Last night, the Select Board approved requests made by NBC Chair Jason Malinowski to improve the committee’s ability to handle MSBA’s requirements for this phase. That included decreasing School Committee representatives from 1 to 2 to allow increasing the number of At-Large Members from 4 to 5.

The change was recommended by the School Committee in order to meet MSBA’s standards. The state authority needs to approve the committee composition and ensure that it has the right balance of experience. To do that, they are reaching out to the public to ask for volunteers with relevant expertise.

Since two current at-large members are stepping down due to the time commitment, the committee will need to fill three spots. After the May 9th election, the School Committee and Select Board will also be changing their representatives on the committee. (That means a change for at least 5 of the 9 voting members.)

The Select Board also voted to authorizing NBC to form subcommittees of its members and delegated the Select Board’s document signing authority to the Town Administrator.

On Monday, May 8th, NBC is scheduled to form a subcommittee to oversee the selection process for an OPM. (The subcommittee would handle the bid process and make a recommendation to the full committee, then ultimately go to the Select Board for a contract to be awarded.) Down the road, a subcommittee would also oversee selecting the design consultant.

Cost Update

Upon questioning, Malinowski confirmed that he still believes the $950K will cover the full costs of the Feasibiltiy Study work. The funding has been bonded and the first principal payment on the temporary bond is next year.

Malinowski updated that MSBA is expected to reimburse over 39% of the study expense if the Town meets its requirements. (However, if the Town reaches that stage, it likely means it is taking on the major construction project. Last year, that was roughly projected as a potential $65M. Based on the updated reimbursement %, Southborough’s share would be about $40M.) 

Enrollment Projection Update (and Issues)

Last month, Select Board Chair Kathy Cook warned her board and others that the school building project is based on enrollment figures that don’t account for population spikes that could be caused by a pending 40B project and potential zoning changes to encourage multi-family housing.

The comments were part of a discussion on how to handle the state’s push for new zoning laws in “MBTA Communities”. The state is pushing Towns to add by-right multi-family housing for up to 15 units per acre.

Officials were discussing potential locations for overlay zoning in different sections of town.* Cook was worrying about the potential for rapid development if 47 acres of Dell’s property (which has been on the market) was rezoned. Developer(s) could build 705 new units, a 20% increase in the housing stock.

Cook, a former member of the School Building Research Committee, highlighted that the K-8 enrollment projections through 2030 didn’t take that possibility into account. She also noted that even the 200 new condo units proposed under the Park Central 40B development project weren’t included. (MassHousing approved the revised application for the controversial development off of Flagg Road as an eligible project. The developer hasn’t filed a permit with the Zoning Board of Appeals yet.)

Last spring, the committee had said it would be working with MSBA to vet the enrollment figures. So, I reached out to Malinowski for an update on the status in light of Cook’s comments.

MSBA did refine numbers but not with those additions, since their planning is “based on known items”. But he indicates they are aware of the issues and will be keeping an eye on the situations. As I shared last year, after two enrollment projection studies, the district planned to use a conservative peak projection of 598 students in grades 2-5 by the 2029-2030 school year. The state has upped that slightly to 610 for now.

You can read the MSBA’s letter here and their details behind their projection changes here.

For the school district administration and committee’s full announcement update on their new phase, click here.

*I do plan to cover the ongoing MBTA Communities zoning discussions in a future post.

Updated (5/4/23 8:10 am): I bungled the sentences about the changing membership. As I corrected above, the School Committee representatives were decreased from 1 to 2 to allow increasing the number of At-Large Members from 4 to 5. Those changes are effective May 10th.

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