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No cost estimate yet

School construction rumors dismissed

December 09, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Lots of little details are fleshing out the proposed new school plan, but it's still not at the point where the School Building Committee can estimate its cost.

That was the essential message of Wednesday night's forum on the project, which attracted a couple dozen people despite downpours and slush.

"You're constantly hearing things about how much this is going to cost. S100 million? Wrong," said Chairman Scott Lazo. He later added, "… People are coming out with numbers, and I'm amazed they have numbers when we don't have numbers."

Those numbers should be coming soon, though. While many decisions affecting the cost "haven't been made yet," he said, "… We're trying to find out those answers." He predicted the cost will be available in January, before Southbridge is slated to go before the Mass School Building Authority for its schematic design approval.

Those designs were the centerpiece of the forum. Using big, multicolored posters that will be posted in Town Hall for further public comments, Architect Charles Hay of Tappe Associates described this stage of the process as "tak[ing] an idea and test[ing] that with some real building plans and real materials."

As is already fairly commonly known, the plan is to build a combined middle/high school on 113 acres the town owns off Torrey Road. Hay's designs show a single building shaped like a narrow V with the middle school on one arm, the high school on the other and shared spaces (library, theater, gym and cafeteria) between and in front of them. Parking and the entry route is to its north, sports fields to the east, an emergency access route and potential (but unlikely) football/track field to the west, and open fields and forest going down the hill southward. Combined, it'll hold 1,050 students — 550 middle school, 500 high school.

When resident Mike Murray observed that figure "made [him] nervous" because it seemed low, High School Principal Bill Bishop said he's projecting just 440 students at his school next year. After negotiating with MSBA repeatedly over future enrollment, Bishop said he believes Southbridge has "banged the MSBA as hard as we can" in getting that number.

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