SAU39 - Amherst, NHFAQ
Answers to Your Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
How has the Amherst School Board changed the project since the March 2022 bond failure?
At the May 2, 2022 Amherst School Board Meeting, the Board discussed the future of the building projects. Per the minutes, “the elementary school is the priority, and the board is in agreement.” The state aid application only included the elementary project. This is in response to the bond failure. The Amherst Building & Grounds, JFAC, and Amherst School Board continue to monitor the status of the middle school and plan for addressing those issues.
Who developed the proposed building project?
The proposed conceptual design is the result of conversations between the administration, staff, and committee with professional architect and construction management firms to ensure a facility project that meets the goals of the district. In 2018, the SAU 39 Joint Facilities Advisory Committee was appointed and tasked by the SAU 39 School Board with conducting an analysis of the state of public education facilities in Amherst. The Committee includes residents, elected officials, and SAU leadership. Their meetings have been public and findings were brought to the Amherst School Board over the last several years.
How many students will fit in the new Elementary school?
The core community spaces will accommodate a maximum of 1,079 students. The classroom space will hold a maximum of 889 students, with room in the design for future expansion should the need ever arise. Building community core spaces slightly larger allows for future growth, planning, and expansion, if needed. This building has been designed with one eye on the present and the other on the future. It is a comprehensive and strategic design,targeted at meeting the needs of today and tomorrow.
what percentage of votes is needed for the new elementary to pass?
The vote requires 60% voter support.
Has the community been surveyed?
Yes, an initial community survey was conducted in Summer 2020, yielding 1,000+ responses. Building safety and class size ratios ranked highest among survey respondent concerns.
A survey was conducted in Spring 2022 to inform the Board and JFAC of future planning. The results of the survey were presented in May to the Amherst School Board.
When would the project begin & end?
*Proposed, if included on March 2023 ballot and supported by voters
*Ground Breaking, SPRING 2024
*Estimated completion SUMMER 2026
How do bonds work?
NH law RSA 33 describes the bond process in NH.
In general, the District sells municipal tax-free bonds either directly on the bond market or through an intermediary like the NH Municipal Bond Bank. Once the bonds are sold, the District is obligated to pay them back when they mature just like corporate bonds. Generally speaking, when someone refers to a “20 year bond,” it is actually separate and discrete bonds that are sold with each one expiring every year for the next 20 years. The interest rate, coupon rate, par value, etc. are determined at the time the bonds are sold.
For additional information: https://www.nhmunicipal.org/town-city-article/abcs-borrowing-municipalities
How long has the Board been discussing/planning these construction projects?
In September 2018, the SAU 39 Board appointed the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee to review the school facilities in Amherst. Discussions regarding facilities have been ongoing.
Will the building accommodate the current enrollment and future growth?
Yes. The design accommodates 7 classrooms per grade plus 4 flexible classrooms located between grade levels. This will allow for flexibility when enrollment dictates the need for an additional classroom for a grade. The Joint Facilities Advisory Committee also ensured that the chosen plan would allow for future build, and additional classroom space could be constructed as second story classrooms at the front (west) of the building, if needed.
There are a lot of new developments being planned in Amherst. Will the new elementary school be able to accommodate future growth?
Yes, planning for the future is important. The elementary school is being built to hold 1079 students in the core spaces (library, gym, cafeteria, etc) and will have 4 flexible classrooms for years when a certain grade needs another classroom teacher. The 2020 plan with a higher cost included 9 classrooms for each grade. By closely examining the program, this plan settles on 7 classrooms per grade.
Will the upgraded facilities be more energy efficient?
Yes, the projects include high energy efficiency systems that meet today’s new construction standards and codes for indoor air quality. These standards far exceed the requirements in place when our schools were constructed half a century ago.
Is there an exemption for senior citizens or those who are disabled?
The Town of Amherst offers tax exemptions for elderly and disabled residents that are based on specific criteria determined by the Town. Information can be found at the assessing page of the town site- https://www.amherstnh.gov/assessing/pages/tax-exemption-criteria
If my assessed property value goes up, does the school get more money?
No. Voters approve a maximum that can be spent on a bond. The school district does not receive additional funds. If additional houses are built, the additional taxpayers will share the fixed cost. The potential exists for impact fees from new developments to be collected, the fee schedule and collection is managed by the town and coordinated with the schools.
Are there hazardous materials in the elementary school?
Yes. There is asbestos in both buildings that is currently monitored annually via visual inspection. The proposed plan includes full asbestos removal from the elementary space that will be reused (the multi-purpose room).
Now that the building will be larger, what additional costs associated with the operation of the new elementary school should we expect?
The District and Board will need to determine a staffing strategy for the new building based on actual enrollment. Currently, the elementary school has 6-7 classroom teachers per grade and is meeting the class size goals established several years ago by the Amherst School Board. The building proposed by Banwell Architects and presented for the March 2022 bond includes 7 classrooms per grade (k-5) and 4 flexible rooms to accommodate larger cohorts. If enrollment demands, the SAU would fill additional classroom teaching positions. This conceptual design allows for space for those classes.
The building will be more energy efficient than the current Clark and Wilkins buildings. It will create an educational facility that aligns with today’s standards to house the programming of the elementary school in one building. The increase in space will require an increase in operating budget funding for costs like heat and electricity. The specific increase of this cost is being estimated around $350,000 annually.
How does the school district plan to pay for the construction costs, and how long should it take to pay it off? How much do you expect to pay annually?
The construction costs would be funded through the sale of bonds per RSA 33. It is up to the Board to determine the length of time the bonds will be paid off. There are many variables that could affect the actual costs, and the final costs won’t be determined until bonds are actually sold. For the March 2022 bond, with the assumption that the bonds are paid off over 30 years, the cost to an average home owner is around $1,000 in the highest year and lessens each year until the final year, assuming the board determines that selling even principal bonds is preferred.
What happens if we do nothing?
Many of the existing systems within the current Elementary and Middle school are at, near, or have exceeded their useful life. To simply stay in the buildings as is will require updates to major systems in the near future. These updates will cost millions of dollars and still not address space constraints, air quality, academic needs, or other major deficiencies of the buildings. Investing millions to maintain a status quo that does not meet the needs of our CURRENT enrollment and student body, let alone any potential growth, is not prudent use of taxpayer funding.
Doing nothing is simply “kicking the can down the road.”
What is the average life span of a school building?
Most school buildings are due for renovation around the 50 year mark.
Wilkins is 53 years old, AMS is 48 years old. Both need renovation to remain in use.
The proposed buildings are made of durable materials with a target lifespan of 50+ years.
Other system life spans vary:
Roof: 30 years
MEP systems: 30 Years
Flooring: 20 years
Why did the committee choose to locate on the current wilkins site?
- A lower development cost, avoiding costs to acquire land, construct utilities, and a year’s worth of site exploration and permitting, with a savings of approximately $3.3 million dollars.
- A new elementary school that remains in the Village.
- A new elementary school consolidated into ONE central building in the Village; resulting in cost and operational/administrative efficiencies, without significant anticipated impact to traffic.
Can we apply for State aid?
The SAU has submitted the full application and has completed the site visit of the Clark and Wilkins sites with the Department of Education team to aid in their establishment of ranking.
By January 15, 2023, the State Board of Education publishes ranked list. If funding approved in State budget, it will be offered in the order of the published list and per RSA 198:15. That amount will be determined by July 1, 2023.
The amount awarded will not be guaranteed before the town vote.
To learn more about the process and timeline visit https://www.education.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt326/files/inline-documents/building-aid-process.pdf
What are the plans for clark school?
There are many ideas for how best to utilize the Clark School building and grounds. A sub-committee has been formed and will continue meeting with community and stakeholder groups to discuss options that may include a community center, town offices, green space, residential sale, or commercial sale.
Are all of the cars now going to enter and exit the elementary from Jones Road?
No. Upon discussing the project, it is clear that alleviating the traffic on Boston Post Road is essential. The loop driveway going around the elementary school will aid in traffic back up. The Jones entrance may be used at specific times for specific purposes. This serves as an exit point for buses in current conceptual renderings.
How has the price and scope of the elementary changed from the first iteration to current renderings?
There have been several iterations throughout the process thus far to reach the proposed renderings we see today. In 2020, the proposed elementary school was three stories tall and was estimated to cost $66 million. The March 2022 bond will bring forth a two story elementary building at a cost of $52.2 million.
How will the elementary school be able to serve the community?
School buildings often serve as the center of community life. This is especially true when a dedicated community center is unavailable, such as the case in Amherst. We are excited that the community will be able to utilize the building after school hours. The elementary building will provide several community use spaces at the front of the building accessible and separate from classroom spaces. These will include a full size gym, library/media center, and the renovated multi-purpose room with stage and mini-gym.
What are the outside playspaces going to be like?
At the elementary school:
There will be several outside play spaces. Playgrounds will be located to the south of the building with nearby classroom hallway entrances. The grove area where “over the log” is played will remain. Additionally, there will be space in the back field for additional outdoor classroom spaces. The conceptual design includes an enclosed courtyard that is accessible for student outdoor time.
At the middle school:
Funds for site work are included to address the safety concerns posed with the current configuration. Addressing the outdoor areas and how they can better serve our students is a priority for the JFAC.
IS THE mont vernon apportionment included in the estimated tax impact calculation for Amherst residents?
No, the MV apportionment is not included in the estimated tax impact calculation. The MV tuition agreement does have a capital calculation built in. However, the numbers presented represent the most conservative information regarding the tax impact to Amherst voters. The MV apportionment is based on the number of students they send to Amherst Middle School, length and desire for a tuition agreement, etc. Since those things can shift, the numbers presented are those that could be provided most accurately to inform voters.
What other options did the committee consider?
- Utilizing the Annex Long-term: Multiple complications arose with this option. The Annex currently contains a number of science labs and an art room with a kiln that are for high school use. Open space that may exist currently will be needed more by Souhegan students in the future as larger grade level cohorts advance through the grades. The building is cut off from all middle and elementary services and would therefore require another layer of administrative and support staffing, resulting in additional staffing costs. Moving the youngest students in the Amherst School District to the Annex would require renovation to meet state guidelines.
- Building new at the district-owned Birch Park site: This site was purchased 20 years ago for a school. The purchase of the land passed, but the construction failed. The site was reviewed by the architect, but secondary egress challenges and extensive site development costs were an obstacle.
- Acquiring new land: Large tracts and parcels the size required for a school are not readily available in Amherst or are cost prohibitive. Additionally, the site development cost would be an added increase to the project.
- Expanding and renovating onto existing sites: The Clark site is very land-locked and expansion opportunities do not exist. The parking lot is already extremely undersized at Clark, and there is truly nowhere else to go with that building or site. At Wilkins, the existing structure cannot carry the load of a second story addition. It would take extensive reinforcement and restructuring, which are cost prohibitive. If the district were to maintain the current building, a second building behind the current school would have to be built to accommodate the classroom space needed. This would result in a second set of systems to maintain, which is cost comparative, while not addressing the systems in the current building, another expense to be incurred as the systems are antiquated.
- The notion of using empty retail or office spaces was discussed. Many of these types of spaces provide limited access to the outdoors, which is something the community has voiced as a priority over the years. Costs would be incurred as the buildings would have to be brought to educational codes and standards.
- Doing only one school at a time: Prior to the March 2022 Bond vote, it was discussed waiting to do AMS at a later date, despite the building having a number of expensive system issues in that building that will need replacement and fixes. The committee was interested in locking in the lower rates and realizing the savings from bidding the projects concurrently and utilizing one Construction Manager.
How do the costs presented compare to other recently built and renovated schools?
Note: The costs presented below for comparison indicate Hard Construction Costs. The total cost of a project include both Hard Construction Costs, plus “Soft Costs”. Soft costs include Contingencies, Permitting Fees, Testing, Engineering and Design, Clerk of the Works / Owners Project Manager, Furnishings, Insurance, Technology infrastructure, Legal Counsel, Etc.
how do we know prices won't increase? we keep hearing that public construction projects always cost more than expected?
We have worked diligently to establish a Guaranteed Maximum Price, “GMP” with our construction management firm. The GMP is the highest amount taxpayers pay for the project, though if the final price is less than the maximum, the District/taxpayers are not obliged to spend unused monies. Any and all savings are returned to taxpayers.
Our Construction Manager (CM) will competitively bid each trade, with the goal of obtaining a minimum of 3 bids per trade. This process will assist in finding the best value available in the marketplace.
What are the energy costs of the facilities after this project?
Energy analysis will continue as the project continues. When final design and materials are selected, the estimations will be more precise. At this time, please view this deck for energy cost estimates.
What is the timeline for the elementary construction project?
The direction from the SAU, Amherst School Board, and JFAC is to minimize the number of moves and disruptions as much as possible. All of this is still in draft form and, should the bond pass, the next year will be spent finalizing and communicating all of the finer points.
The preliminary plan involves constructing the new addition of the building first and relocating the students to the new section of the building as soon as it is complete.
Spring 2024-summer 2025 New addition to be built outside the existing Wilkins School
Late Summer 2025 (start of school) move existing students at Wilkins into new “half addition”
Summer 2025 Demolish existing CW facility (except for Multi purpose and kitchen area)
Summer 2025- Summer 2026 build rest of facility
Summer 2026 Move Clark students and 5th grade into final facility
Fall 2026 New Clark-Wilkins Elementary fully open preK- 5
What are the cost benefits of doing both the Elementary and AMS projects at the same time?
- Locking into construction rates which are expected to increase 4-5% annually.
- Taking advantage of today’s bond rates.
- Additionally there are cost advantages with material purchasing and construction scheduling by running two simultaneous projects.
How will the classroom SPACES change at AMS?
The physical classroom environment will be improved greatly with new MEP systems, updated lighting, consistent heating and cooling, greatly improved ventialtion, and square footage to meet today’s educational standards and requirements.
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