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AGAWAM — Agawam is moving forward with a high school that’s part-new and part-renovated, according to School Building Committee member Dawn DeMatteo. The decision was the culmination of a year of the town exploring its options.

“It was a multitude of meetings and a bunch of people, too many to count,” she said.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority required the School Building Committee and its architectural firm, Flansburgh, to review three options: new construction only, an addition-renovation project, and bare-minimum renovations to bring the current building up to code.

The consensus among town elected officials, school administrators, teachers and community members was that the addition-renovation option would be best for the students. The plan selected would not require costly modular classrooms and would cost less to local taxpayers than the code renovation.

“We explored all options possible,” said DeMatteo, who is also a member of the elected School Committee. “What was important to everybody involved is that we want the least disruption to these kids.”

Agawam Chief Procurement Officer Jennifer Bonfiglio said the School Building Committee submitted its preferred option to the MSBA in November.

At a community forum Nov. 27 at the Agawam High School library, presenters gave several more reasons the town needs a new school. AHS Principal Jim Blaine said the new school would have a floor plan tailored to modern learning styles, emphasizing collaboration between the classrooms.

“When we talk about the educational programming, we talk about the ability to collaborate more freely, more easily; to move around the space in a campus-like setting that mirrors the workforce that we send them to, that mirrors the colleges and universities we send them to,” he said.

School Superintendent Sheila Hoffman said Agawam’s accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges is in danger because of deficiencies in the current building, the core of which dates back to 1955. The school is already on probation because its curriculum, especially in science and technology, is limited by its physical plan.

“Colleges aren’t going to recognize our high school as a high school that kids are coming from with a quality education,” she said.

Hoffman also said property values in town could suffer if the school loses accreditation, dissuading families from moving to the town.

The total project cost is estimated to be $231.5 million, of which the town would be responsible for about $132 million. MSBA is now expected to reimburse about 43% of the cost, an improvement from the previous estimate of 28%, after the state agency loosened its per-square-foot cost cap in October to better match current construction costs. Bonfiglio said the change will add $21 million in reinbursements to the project.

Hoffman said that bringing the current high school up to modern building codes, with no changes to the floor plan, would cost $161 million over a 15-year period. It wouldn’t qualify for MSBA reimbursement, so the entire project cost would fall on local taxpayers.

Mayor William Sapelli said he often hears people ask why surrounding communities like Chicopee and West Springfield built their high schools for half the cost projected for Agawam. He said those were built 10-12 years ago, and the costs of materials, supplies and labor have doubled since then. Blaine said a building like Chicopee High School, which cost $58 million when built, would carry a price tag of $138 million in 2024.

“The surrounding communities all have state-of-the-art facilities within the last 15-20 years,” he said. “It speaks to it being our time.”

Presenting a chart of escalating costs, Linda Liporto, of project management firm LeftField, said that building costs have regularly increased 4% to 5% each year, with a spike of 15% in 2023. They have never decreased. The numbers for the new Agawam High School are based on projected costs in 2026, when the building is expected to be completed.

The town’s prefered design is a two-story structure that has an academic wing with classrooms; a community wing with the cafeteria, auditorium, and gymnasium; and green space between them, including a courtyard.

The academic wing will feature “academic pods” where classrooms dedicated to different subjects are mixed together, as opposed to the current school with long hallways and classrooms grouped by subject. The pod layout also mixes special education classes among other classrooms. The library will be replaced with “maker spaces” in the academic wing.

The campus will also include a pre-kindergarten building — repurposing what is now the technical education wing of the current high school — to replace the town’s Early Childhood Center at Perry Lane.

The current high school’s brick entrance, where the athletic facilities and special services are located, will be preserved. The stadium and baseball field, renovated in 2016, will also remain as they currently are.

Bonfiglio said the layout presented at the community forum is a rough sketch, and more detail will be added in the “schematic design” phase of the project, which may begin soon if the MSBA Board of Directors votes in favor of advancing the project at its Dec. 13 meeting. The MSBA’s Facilities Assessments Subcommittee already gave the project a positive recommendation, after meeting with members of the School Building Committee, and representatives from LeftField and Flansburgh,

The schematic design phase will help the town narrow down the costs, determine exact figures for MSBA reimbursement, and work on the project scope and budget agreement. This phase may last up to seven months, with a target end month of May 2024, after which the results will be submitted to the MSBA. The MSBA will then issue its final project scope and budget agreement, after which the town will have to secure funding. Once funding is secured, construction can begin.

At the community forum, lead architect Ken Kovaczs, of Flansburgh, said phase 1 of construction would see the community wing built on the southwestern side of the campus, next to the current building. After 18 months, it would open.

In phase 2, projected to take 16 months, the current cafeteria and gymnasium would be torn down to build the academic wing. After the academic wing enters into use, the remainder of the high school, save the parts being renovated, would be demolished. Last, the athletic fields and parking would be built.

Bonfiglio said community members with concerns can attend School Building Committee meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 18 at 3 p.m. at the Agawam Public Library, 750 Cooper St., Agawam. Agendas are posted on agawamhsproject.com and the town website.

“Anyone is welcome to come and speak at any of those public meetings,” she said.

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