AMHERST – The town of Amherst’s Community Chat returned on Feb. 17 with a Q&A session open to residents who were seeking more information on the elementary school building project.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Elementary School Building Committee Chair Cathy Schoen and Amherst School Committee Chair Allison McDonald joined virtually for a community chat and answered questions from community members on the new school building project. Schoen, who also serves as a town councilor, is working directly with the designer of the project, DiNisco Design, in her role as the Elementary School Building Committee chair.

The panel was asked about where the town was in the process and when estimates of the new school would be coming. Schoen responded by saying they are in the feasibility period which has been an intense part of the project.

Either the Wildwood or Fort River Elementary School would be the site for the new school. The decision on which will be made based on which parcel of land is best fit for their needs as well as traffic flow with more students going to the same building location.

There will be a combination of 575 children currently in K-5 from Wildwood and Fort River elementary schools in the new school building once the project is complete.

Schoen added decisions like which location the project will be and if it will be an addition and renovation to one of the existing buildings will be decided by the spring. She hopes when this early stage of project planning is over, and construction can begin, that the school will be ready by fall 2026.

Another question to the three panelists was if the education plan detailed in the project description was an aspirational plan or the current one used in the schools. McDonald said that she would not call is aspirational but one they are trying to continue providing. According to McDonald, an education plan is generally included in a building’s project plans as the services needed for the plan are what they would need space to provide for in the building.

One resident asked what it was going to take to make this building have a net zero carbon footprint in terms of construction costs. Schoen answered by mentioning the town has a net zero bylaw that would be followed and the move off of oil and gas to an electric powered building and to offset costs with renewable sources like solar were both major pieces of this project. Schoen says the goal is to get this building as close to net zero as possible.

“The intention of the designer is to make this an extremely environmentally friendly building. They will be building an efficient building,” Schoen said.

Bockelman added that there was a lot of excitement about making this a net zero building as being environmentally conscious was something the community believes as a whole. He added that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) does not have any rewards for school building projects that attempt to reach these environmentally friendly goals. Bockelman added he felt towns moving toward better green is something worth compensating in this context.

When asked by a resident to clarify on what the MSBA would be contributing to the costs, Schoen was able to explain some of the current situation.

“They won’t pay for solar photovoltaic and site preparation costs if we went geothermal. They limit the amount they will pay to no more than 8 percent of the project,” Schoen said. “Consultants are saying it’s how you build the school is the first part, then how you use it, and how you offset the electrical costs.”

Schoen added that DiNisco Design is committed to making their best effort to be extremely energy efficient in this project and that they have built net zero buildings from scratch before even though this project could be a total renovation and addition to one of the current school buildings from the 1970s.

“[DiNisco] has a high reputation for their ability to think this through,” Schoen said.

Bockelman closed the discussion on this question by saying Schoen has done a “tremendous” amount of work and has visited other school buildings in the state to see a net zero school in action.

“It’s really important, we want to learn as much as we possibly can. We want to build the one that will work for us,” Bockelman said.

Resident Rudy Perkins asked Schoen that when she visited theses schools if she was able to speak with any maintenance workers and get a read on how the adjustment was with geothermal energy being used. Schoen said she was able to and saw a maintenance room at one school where she could see how it had been implemented in the school building.

“The maintenance people said the designer made it incredibly simple for them with the panel and uses. They got a lot of training and simplified the system,” Schoen said. “I did not find it to be rocket science and retrain everything they knew.”

To catch the full community chat conversation on the new school building you can visit the Town of Amherst, MA YouTube channel and look for the Feb. 17 meeting. You can also visit amherst-school-project.com to learn more about the project.

Source Google News – Read the original article

Community Chat Q&A focused on new school building project – Reminder Publications

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