When I joined the NM High School Building Committee two years ago, I was firmly in the renovation camp. Being a cheap Yankee, I was sure renovation would provide a better value for our communities.

But as the Feasibility Study progressed, I came to realize that renovation was not the best value. The existing building presents many major challenges to renovation.

The roof framing is low, does not allow for overhead ductwork and cannot structurally support rooftop equipment; this limits our options for meeting ventilation requirements in each room.

The current building is energy inefficient, has asbestos-containing materials throughout the building, which must be abated, and has accessibility challenges whose only solutions are very costly.

In addition, most utilities serving the building must be replaced, the building has long, narrow corridors, 29 entrances present security issues.

The list goes on and on.

Option 1, 'Code only renovation," which only brings the building up to current code compliance, is estimated at $43-$45 million, but such an effort would not be reimbursed by MSBA as it does not address the educational space deficiencies such as undersized classrooms, laboratories and auditorium, technology deficiencies, etc.

Option 1 does not address many of the issues which caused the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) to put NMHS on probation, and as a result, NMHS would likely lose NEASC accreditation with this option, which will depress our property values and impact our students' choices for higher education.


The other renovation options were estimated between $85M and $100M, with a lower overall reimbursement rate from MSBA than new construction, due in large part to the fact that the existing building exceeds MSBA's reimbursement cap by 20,000 square feet. Renovation of that nonreimbursed space is paid for entirely by the taxpayers. As renovation would need to be done in phases over 4-5 years, modular classrooms would need to be leased, at over $2M -- nonreimbursable. One of the building committee's objectives is to maximize MSBA reimbursement as a percentage of the total cost by minimizing nonreimbursable costs. The cost to the taxpayers of the district for these options ranges from $40-$50 million.

All of the renovation options are a 25-year solution.

What finally convinced

me that renovation is less advantageous is the disruption factor. All renovation options are 4- to 5-year projects -- meaning 7 or 8 graduating classes will be attending high school under renovation -- some for their entire high school experience. The noise, dust, complete closing of areas like the gym or auditorium, and regular classroom and schedule changes that in-place renovation require, will have a tangible negative impact on the education of these students.

New construction will have a construction period of about 3 years, which means our students will reap the benefits of this project much sooner. During this time the students would continue to use the existing facility while the new building is built adjacent to the existing on the same site. At a total project cost of $89.08M (less than some renovation options) and MSBA reimbursement of $40.2M. The cost to the taxpayers of the district is $48.8M. New construction is a 50-plus-year solution.

It turns out new construction is clearly a better value, as well as a better solution. Live and learn!

Heide Messing

North Middlesex Regional High School

Building Committee