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Newton

Angier Elementary School plans presented

Newton officials unveiled the first complete picture of what a new Angier Elementary School might look like Monday night, and announced that the project, financed in part by a tax increase approved by voters in March, is coming along right on target.

“We are very happy to be here tonight,” said the city’s chief financial officer, Maureen Lemieux, during a joint meeting of the Board of Aldermen and the School Committee where completed schematic designs were revealed. “We are on budget; we are on schedule.”

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The total budget is $37.5 million, which is in line with past estimates by officials. The city is anticipating at least $10 million in aid from the state, Lemieux said.

The Angier School Building Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on sending the schematic designs and budget to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which has agreed to help finance the project. School Committee member Jonathan Yeo, who is also on the Angier building committee, said the district hopes to sign a project agreement with the authority this fall.

In March, Newton voters approved two Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion overrides totaling $3 million to help rebuild Angier and the Cabot Elementary School, as well as a tax increase of $8.4 million to fund the city’s other capital and operating needs.

On Monday night, according to the city clerk, aldermen also voted to approve a request from Mayor Setti Warren to authorize appropriating $1 million from bonded indebtedness to fund a feasibility study for the renovation or replacement of Zervas Elementary, another of Newton’s aging schools.

Until now, the projected budget for the Angier project was based on estimates using square footage. But once the schematic designs were completed, the city was able to get detailed cost breakdowns from designers, said Yeo.

“This is a very important intermediary step,” Yeo said in an interview after the meeting. “This is more than conceptual. We’re now into exactly how the building is laid out, what materials, how the building is constructed, and how the site is laid out.”

The budget for the project includes $26.2 million for construction costs and $4 million for off-site improvements, which will include a retaining wall between the school and the train tracks that run alongside it, a new playground, and traffic and parking improvements. It also contains $3.8 million for design and administration costs; $1.1 million for furnishings, equipment and educational technology; $1.6 million for contingencies; and $750,000 for the feasibility study.

The three-story school in the city’s Waban section will replace the current Angier, built in 1919 and “woefully undersized” by today’s standards, Yeo said.

“Kids are having lunch in a basement hallway,” he said. “Many of the classrooms are 40 percent less than they’re supposed to be; they’re crowded.”

The new Angier will be fully air-conditioned, a first for Newton’s elementary schools.

The 74,960 square-foot building will have a full-court gym, said DiNisco Design principal architect Leno Filippi, who presented the plans to aldermen on Monday. Newton residents will be able to use the gym when school is not in session, said Yeo.

The front of the school, an open plaza with trees and places to sit, will serve as a gathering space for parents and children.

Inside, the hallways will be dotted with “breakout rooms” and activity tables for students to work in small groups or one-on-one with specialists; there will be extra classroom space, designated spots for after-school programs, and, for the first time, Angier students will have a cafeteria. There will also be two “quiet rooms” for students who need to calm down.

Classrooms will be located only on the second and third floors, partly for security reasons and partly so that teachers will be able to work together more easily, said Yeo. The front doors will kept locked, with an intercom for visitors asking to be admitted, and will be in direct sight of administration offices.

The gym has been moved from the front to the back of the school, to address neighbors’ design concerns.

At Monday night’s meeting, some aldermen questioned why some parts of the building, especially in the back, were not more uniformly brick, as earlier thinking had suggested they would be. The exterior of the school is mostly brick, but also contains textured concrete, metal, and glass.

“If, as an architect, your original architecture was brick, then let’s stick with the brick,” said Alderman at Large Marc Laredo.

Filippi said eliminating some brick and switching to textured concrete saved about $65,000, a move that Laredo called “penny wise and pound foolish.”

The Board of Aldermen’s vice president, Cheryl Lappin, requested a list of changes that architects have made to bring down the cost of the project.

Others raised safety concerns about the traffic flow around the school, pointing in particular to one tight corner that they said looked like a blind spot. And some asked whether architects could include more references to the old Angier’s historical architecture in the new design.

But many questions focused on smaller details: Will the children be able to get up to the roof for supervised science experiments, such as dropping watermelons and cannonballs like Galileo? Will there be a place for them to play “off-the-wall” outside? Can the building support a “green roof,” and will the kitchen have room for children to try cooking?

Filippi said architects will consider those questions.

The schematic designs are not final, Yeo said; he expects changes, though not major ones.

Construction is slated to begin next summer, and the school is set to open in the fall of 2016. Carr Elementary School on Nevada Street will be used as swing space while Angier is under construction.

Evan Allen can be reached at evannn524@gmail.com.
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