~Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do we need to build a twin school?

    • Building a “twin” elementary school and including the preschool in one project will ultimately reduce the construction cost to taxpayers, accelerate needed replacement of schools by 7-10 years, and provide opportunities for operation efficiencies afforded by having multiple schools co-located in one building.


  • Why was the Gates site chosen for the new school building? 

    • The District studied the possibility of locating the school on the Douglas, Gates and Conant sites. The Gates site was selected based on community feedback and the ability of the school to be constructed given wetland and other site constraints inherent in all three sites.


  • How much will this project cost?

    • The AB School Building Committee voted the total project budget not to exceed $117,328,519.  To read more about the costs of the project, visit the project cost page.


  • Have any cost cutting measures been taken so far? 

    • The consolidation of three schools into one building is by far the greatest cost-cutting measure undertaken by the district.  By constructing one building instead of three separate schools, the district will save millions in construction and design costs.  For example, one option studied during feasibility, was to construct a replacement for the Douglas Elementary School. The cost estimate to replace only the Douglas School was $99M.  With the total project cost for constructing three schools in one building set not to exceed $117.3M, the consolidation of the schools represents millions in cost savings and years of construction.

    • By voting to proceed with a single-phase construction process as opposed to a multi-phase option, the building committee not only saved approximately 15 months of construction and disruption to students, but saved approximately $7M in construction costs (PSR Options 4 and 4.1).

    • Each mechanical system designed for the new school is being evaluated by the building committee in order to assess initial and life-cycle costs and sustainability.  Building a Net-Zero School has been a project goal not only to be environmentally sustainable, but in order to be cost-efficient for the next half-century.

    • An additional priority of the building committee with regard to cost saving measures is to maximize state reimbursement for various project costs.  The building committee has been evaluating each proposed space within the building in order to maximize the amount that the project can be reimbursed by the MSBA.

    • The building committee engaged in a "Value Engineering" process that was able to reduce the costs of the new building by approximately $3.5M without sacrificing the educational programs of the schools.


  • I heard the school is going to be “Triple Net Zero.”  What does that mean?

    • The new building is being designed to the highest standards of energy efficiency.  Setting a goal of Triple Net Zero means that we have set stringent environmental goals in the areas of energy (electricity), water, and waste.

      • The school is designed to produce as much energy as it consumes.  The building will be heated using a combination of geothermal wells which are supplemented by two electric boilers.  There will be no fossil fuels used in this building, which means there are no gas lines coming into the school. The energy to power the heating and electrical systems will be produced almost entirely through the use of solar panels on the roof surface and over the parking lot.

      • The school will store and reuse rainwater to flush toilets.  Toilets are the greatest source of water use in a school and the opportunity to collect rainwater from the roof of the building, store it in underground tanks, and use this “grey water” to flush the toilets greatly reduces the environmental impact of the building.

      • The construction process is designed to minimize waste and the overall carbon impact.  Specifically, during the demolition of the existing schools, materials are expected to be sorted on site for future recycling.


  • How much does it cost for the school to be “Net Zero”

    • There are capital costs associated with our environmental goals for the project, but the initial capital outlay will, in many ways, pay itself back over the life of the building.

      • Net Zero Energy:  Initial Outlay $3,2M, 15 year payback

      • Net Zero Water: Initial Outlay $550K, 26 year payback (based on sewer connection)

      • Net Zero Waste:  Initial Outlay: $0


  • I heard the district's enrollment is going down.  Why do we need such a large school?

    • It is accurate that the overall district enrollment has declined from 5860 students to 5232 students over the last ten years.  However, based on the most recent enrollment projections by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC), our enrollment is expected to increase again over the next ten years to nearly 5,700 students.  Additionally, over the last ten years the district has seen dramatic shifts in the number of English Learners and has developed special education programming to better meet the needs of our students. These programs require specialized spaces in our schools that our current buildings do not afford. 


  • Why is the preschool included? 

    • The current preschool is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, yet serves many of our youngest students with the highest needs.  Aside from the cost-saving efficiency of co-locating the school with Douglas and Gates, the new building will provide significant improvements in accessibility for our students.


  • Will the Gates softball fields be rebuilt as part of the project? 

    • Yes, the district plans to build a regulation size softball field onto the site of the current Douglas School.


  • Will the boardwalk be covered? 

    • It is our goal to enhance the West Acton Boardwalk by widening it, making it ADA accessible, and covering it for year-round use by students, families and the community. This will provide a comfortable experience for users and mitigate any environmental impact through our work with the Acton Conservation Commission. 


  • Will the students feel comfortable in such a large school?

    • The school is being designed to make the large building feel smaller for students.  The configuration of the new building has each school program on its own floor to create a sense of community for each school.  


  • Why are the students of each school separate?

    • The Acton-Boxborough elementary schools have a rich tradition of open enrollment that allows parents to choose the school they believe to be the best fit for their child.  Maintaining two distinct elementary schools within the building allows us to maintain the unique educational program of each of the schools.


  • Will the younger kids be okay being on the upper floors of the building? 

    • The new building is designed to be ADA accessible with full compliance with state building codes and egress. The safety of all students, especially the most vulnerable, is critical.


  • What are the environmental constraints of  the site? 

    • The combined Gates and Douglas site is bisected by Fort Pond Brook and wetlands. While the current buildings were built in 1965 and 1967; the Wetlands Protection Act went into effect in 1996. This project will respect the wetland buffer zones, FEMA and calculated flood zones, and riverfront area setbacks working with the Town of Acton, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency.


  • How many parking spots are being planned for?

    • The project is planning 241 parking spaces which meets the zoning requirements for the Town of Acton.  The main parking for the school is located on the Gates side of the property and there is an auxiliary parking lot and parent drop off area located along Elm Street (Douglas side) adjacent to the softball field


  • What will happen to Douglas after the new building is complete?

    • The current Douglas school will be demolished once all students and teachers move to the new building in order to create additional parking spaces and accommodate the relocated softball field.


  • Where will students go during construction? 

    • All students and activities will remain  in their current schools during construction.  Four classrooms in the Gates school will be relocated within Gates or in onsite modular classrooms during construction.


  • Will the students be impacted during construction? 

    • Because the new building will be located adjacent to the existing Gates Elementary School, we expect some impact during construction.  We will be working to relocate several classrooms that will be displaced due to construction and are developing parking and safety plans to ensure the school can safely remain in operation.  The construction areas will be fenced and monitored to assure that all students, staff, faculty and visitors are safe.


  • What is the enrollment for the proposed twin school? 

    • The design enrollment for the new school is 990 students in Grades K-6 and 140 Preschool students.


  • What are the sustainability goals for the project? 

    • The district is pursuing a sustainability goal of “Triple Net Zero” meaning that the building will strive to meet the highest sustainability targets for energy, water and waste.  The building committee is reviewing the design features of the school in this regard to make sure that they are not only environmentally sustainable, but fiscally conscious.


  • Who is on the Acton-Boxborough Regional School Building Committee and when does it meet?

    • The Regional School Building Committee is comprised of members of both communities, representatives from the regional school committee, finance committees, Board of Selectmen/Select Board, and members of the school administration.  The committee meets once or twice monthly on Wednesday evenings. More information on our meeting schedule can be found on our website. 


  • What will the exterior design look like? 

    • The exterior design is being carefully considered to respect the historic nature of West Acton and the region and meet the function and spirit of a school.  The design of the building will in some way be reminiscent of the mill buildings commonly found throughout the region with a modern interpretation to create a sense of excitement for students.


  • What is the project timeline? 

    • Pending a successful vote at Town Meetings and Ballot Elections scheduled for December 2019, the project will break ground in early summer of 2020.  It is estimated the building will take approximately two years to complete and will open in fall 2022.


  • What is the potential taxpayer impact? 

    • The current estimates of taxpayer impact which are subject to change reflect a tax increase of between $452 and $509 for an average single family home in Acton and between $314 and $354 for an average single family home in Boxborough. Click to read more.


  • What are the cost factors to the project?

    • Schools are costly because they require many specialized spaces.

    • The Boston area construction market has become very expensive due to the strong economy and an abundance of work for contractors.  This has caused a 4% annual construction cost escalation.

    • There are specific site related factors that are having cost impacts as well.


  • How much will the MSBA reimburse? 

    • The MSBA has set the district’s reimbursement rate at 49.7% of reimbursable costs, but based on an analysis of similar communities' excluded costs, we anticipate that our effective reimbursement rate will be closer to 33% of the total project cost.


  • What happens if the project is not approved by Acton and Boxborough? 

    • The district needs to update its aging schools. In the event of a failed debt exclusion, the district would only have a few options.  These options would need MSBA approval. They include:

      • Reevaluate certain portions of the project and bring it back to the voters within 12 months.  Historically, if the 2nd vote fails the MSBA would remove the district from the Capital Program pool.

      • If the project was removed from the Capital Program pool the district would have to reapply for state-funding by starting the process from scratch and submitting a statement of interest. The district would not be allowed to pick up where the project left off. Experience from other towns suggests that being invited back into the MSBA process following a failed project can take multiple attempts, if it is approved at all. Applying for MSBA consideration would also add to the project’s timeline, potentially significantly. If the district decided to move forward without funding, a new Owner’s Project Manager and architect/ designer would have to be hired, and funding for them would have to be obtained via a new debt exclusion vote. The design process would then take approximately two years. After the design is complete, a separate debt exclusion vote for the building would have to occur before the project could move forward. 

      • The district could also elect to go forward without MSBA involvement which would result in no reimbursement.

    • Because of enrollment needs and deteriorating facility conditions, a resulting failed project would ultimately result in our Gates, Douglas, and Preschool programs falling short in facilitating their educational programs, it would leave these programs with inferior layout and facilities, while taking much longer to build and costing taxpayers significantly more than the proposed new school.


  • What happens if the project goes over budget? 

    • Once Acton and Boxborough voters approve their share of the project, the expectation is that any cost increases will be absorbed into the budget. During Design Development, three separate estimates are performed as a check against the budget.  If at any time the estimates come in over budget, the Building Committee will perform a Value Engineering (cost reduction) exercise to bring the project back on budget. The total project budget will also contain several contingencies to mitigate various risks as the project moves forward.


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