Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Based on questions from the Community, the School Building Committee has created a comprehensive FAQ document addressing the topics and questions.
- Why are we performing a Feasibility Study?
The 60-year-old Fuller Middle School has served the community well. The school has reached a point that it no longer meets today’s building codes, has structural deficiencies, inefficient and inoperable systems and does not adequately support our educational curriculum. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the state agency charged with overseeing and supporting school improvement projects, visited the school and agreed. The Feasibility Study is MSBA’s initial step in partnering with the City of Framingham to investigate these conditions and develop a cost effective, sustainable and educationally appropriate solution to the aging Fuller Middle School. The School Building Committee had no preconceived solutions and they, over the last eighteen months, investigated renovation, renovation and addition, and new construction options, all of which are required by the MSBA process. The City adhered to the MSBA’s rigorous and transparent process and has been awarded a grant of approximately $39.5 Million to support the cost of the project.
- Is the current Fuller School safe?
Based on the School Administration’s experience and ongoing efforts, the District is confident it can continue to maintain the Fuller building so that it remains safe for student occupancy until a new building is constructed under the proposed multi-year schedule. While the Fuller building has reached the end of its useful life, the District is closely monitoring the structure and indoor air quality to ensure it is satisfactory at all times. Furthermore, the District engaged a structural engineer to determine the integrity of the building’s foundation and flooring. As a result, the District installed temporary structural supports in identified areas in 2016, primarily in the maintenance services garage where vehicles are stored.
- Will ongoing use of Fuller Middle School be impacted during construction of the project?
Construction activity will be phased and separated from the day-to-day functions of the existing school to ensure safety and to limit disruption to the educational process. A fenced-off construction zone with a dedicated construction vehicle access will be monitored for safety and dust control. The proposed construction area will be separated from both Fuller and Farley classroom areas by the non-classroom spaces in each building such as gymnasiums, cafeteria and auditorium. Temporary parking will be located in the front of the Fuller School and the field activities for the school would continue to function behind the school.
- How long has the Feasibility Study been underway?
The initial application for acceptance into the MSBA process commenced in November 2013 with the submission of the Statement of Interest (SOI) for the Fuller Middle School to the MSBA by the Selectmen and School Committee. After receiving a deferral from MSBA in 2013 and 2014, the district filed a third SOI in 2015, which the MSBA reviewed and approved in May 2016 agreeing that a Feasibility Study should be undertaken on the Fuller Middle School. The Feasibility Study commenced in February 2017 and includes a detailed report outlining the existing conditions, educational needs, community interest, options for building, and the cost outline, amongst other required information.
- What is the role of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)?
The MSBA is the state authority that administers and funds a program of grants for Massachusetts school projects. The MSBA mandates a multi-step rigorous study and approval process encompassed within the Feasibility Study and will provide Framingham a grant of up to 62.31% of the eligible Feasibility Study, design and construction costs.
- What options have been studied?
Eight design alternatives were discussed and evaluated over the course of the Feasibility Study. The committee focused on the following criteria when developing the options: educational benefits, cost, minimal disruption during construction, sustainability, community access, and transportation. The eight design alternatives explored were comprised of one repair only option, one renovation option, three renovation and addition options and three all new construction options.
- What is the Preferred Option?
The School Building Committee selected the all new construction option, Option C, as the preferred option. This option offers a new three-story school with a learning commons/ cafeteria at the core surrounded by collaboration balconies fronting a perimeter of classrooms, an 8,300-square-foot gymnasium, 420-seat auditorium, and full-building air conditioning. Additionally, there will be space for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) instructional areas.
- What is the academic focus of the Fuller School? Is it a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics School, or will all subjects be covered?
Fuller Middle School will continue to teach all core academic subjects. STEAM is primarily a way to teach how all the subjects relate to each other. Rather than the traditional “Sage on the Stage” model wherein a teacher does the talking and the students absorb the information, STEAM is more collaborative and project based. With an emphasis on project-based learning, students will be provided more opportunities to explore concepts and demonstrate their learning through hands-on, real-world applications. Whenever possible, these projects will be interdisciplinary. At all times, instructional units will continue to be aligned with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.
- What are the Green Features of the Chosen Design Option?
The school will be a model of sustainable design, with innovative approaches to saving energy, conserving resources, and providing a comfortable, safe environment for all its occupants. Classroom windows will be split into a lower and upper section, the lower section glass will provide natural light, views and fresh air and the upper section will be located over “light shelves”, which reflect daylight onto the white ceiling, which in turn shines deep into the room. The lighting is designed to dim or get brighter depending on how sunny it is outside. Natural gas-powered furnaces will be very efficient – so that the proper amount of heat comes into the classroom, with minimum heat from the flame exhaust wasted to the outside. Energy recovery units will be used to remove the heat from the exhaust air before it is discharged to the outside. This heat is then transferred to the fresh air coming in, significantly reducing energy use. The exterior walls, roof and floor will be provided with high efficiency insulation and a tight air barrier to keep the uncomfortable temperatures and humidity outside. Building materials will be carefully selected to have a high recycle content. Wherever possible, building materials will be harvested and manufactured locally, to reduce the energy used in transportation. The site is also respectful of the nearby wetlands and coordination with the Conservation Commission has occurred and will continue. The plan also creates more open space for the community since we are going from a high school size footprint to a middle school one.
- Why not just repair the Fuller School?
The repair-only option consisting of renovations to meet the building code, addressing the structural deficiencies and replacing the aged existing building systems is significantly more costly to the City than new construction or comprehensive renovation and additions, due to the size of the existing building. The repair-only option makes no educational improvements.
- Why not just move the students into the Farley Building?
The Farley building has not functioned as a public school for over 23 years and, in that time, its occupant (MassBay Community College) has altered the interior of the building to suit its own needs. To reoccupy Farley as a middle school would require significant renovation to reclaim the interior spaces for classrooms costing more than $40-$50 Million, and resulting in the need to move MassBay Community College out. Furthermore, the district would need to determine the extent of the upgrades necessary for the school to become usable as a middle school again, including lab space, fire suppression, life safety and handicap access. For example, the study of Farley’s sister-school, the Barbieri School, would indicate that the current bathroom facilities at Farley do not meet current handicap code. It should be noted that the entire cost to reopen Farley as a school would be at the expense of the City with no assistance from MSBA since all costs for creating “swing space” (space needed to house students temporarily during construction) are not reimbursable and must be totally borne by the City.
- What will the Project cost?
The approximate total project cost is $98.3 Million. The MSBA will provide a grant of approximately $39.5 Million with the City’s share after the grant estimated to be $58.8 Million.
The tax impact on average will be approximately 29 cents on per $1,000 of assessed residential value. This equates to $101 per year for the Average Annual Cost to the Average Residential Taxpayer, or $8.41 per month or 28 cents per day. This is based on a 20-year bond utilizing $8 million of the Capital Stabilization fund, which the City proactively saved over the last few years to prepare for this much needed project.
- Why is the MSBA grant less than 62.31% of the total project cost?
The MSBA reimbursement rate formula is based on eligible project costs. The MSBA defines what costs are eligible and ineligible costs and both are included in the total project cost. Examples of ineligible project costs are the auditorium, the larger gymnasium space, and site and building costs in excess of the MSBA’s cost limits.
- What is included in the total project cost?
The total project cost estimate includes all construction costs - site work, playfields, and demolition of the existing school. It also includes design fees, construction-related testing costs, construction contingencies and new furniture and educational technology equipment.
- Why is now the right time to build?
Due to a slowly improving economy and competitive building climate, borrowing and construction costs are still at historic lows. These costs, however, are on the rise and a delay will increase project costs. While we do have a commitment from MSBA for millions of dollars in reimbursement, there is no guarantee of any level of State grant should the project not pass. Additionally, simply repairing the existing building is more costly to the City than new construction and does not include any educational improvements which are required as part of the MSBA process.
- What if the project is not approved by the voters?
The City would risk the opportunity to receive millions of dollars in state grant funding to resolve the deteriorating conditions of the 60-year-old Fuller Middle School.
Voters would still have to spend over $131 million in significant capital improvements in the upcoming years to address deficiencies and bring the building up to code. Doing this does not address educational programming. At that point, 100% of these costs would need to be paid by the voters.
If the project is not approved, the City will need to submit a new SOI to the MSBA and await an invitation from the MSBA to enter the Eligibility Period phase of the MSBA’s process. This would take years and, in the meantime, the City would need to use its own funds to repair the Fuller building - further delaying all other school projects.
- If the project does not pass, can the City use the State money to just repair the existing building?
No, reimbursement from the MSBA is only intended for use on a building project that meets the MSBA requirements.
- When will the City be voting to approve the project?
The City Council voted to approve the funding for the project on October 30, 2018. The debt exclusion ballot vote is scheduled for December 11, 2018 to approve the exclusion of the costs of the debt from the so-called Proposition 2 ½ cap.
- What is a debt exclusion and why is a debt exclusion ballot vote required for the project?
The debt exclusion is a specific type of tax override. Unlike an operating override which raises taxes over the 2 ½ levy limit forever, the debt exclusion has a fixed time limit of 20 years, the duration of the bond, and can only be used to fund the cost of the debt for the Fuller Middle School project. The money raised in taxes could not continue; nor could it be used for any other project.
- Why do we need to go outside the tax levy to fund this project?
If the City of Framingham was to pay for its share of the project, approximately $58.8 million, from the existing tax levy, there would be no other funding available to pay the debt for other City improvement and maintenance projects. This includes projects to repair and maintain other school buildings, or repairing and paving roads and sidewalks. Additionally, the tax impact to the residents would have no fixed end period, whereas a debt exclusion would have a fixed end period, the duration of the bond, in this case 20 years.
- What happens if the project is approved by the taxpayers?
The project is moved into the design development phase during which the design and drawings are further refined. This is followed by the construction documents phase when the construction bid documents are prepared by the architect. Construction would start in Summer 2019 with the new school completed for Summer 2021 and then the demolition and parking lot work would be completed by December 2021.
- Why can’t the City start construction earlier?
With the successful debt exclusion ballot vote on December 11, 2018, it takes many months to complete the design development and construction documents in order to commence construction in the summer of 2019.
- What programs does the City offer seniors for property tax relief?
The City offers the following programs for property tax relief:
Clause 17D exemption, worth $175: This program is for persons who are 70 years of age by July 1, 2018 and have occupied their residence for at least five years. There is no income limit, but the value of the whole estate must be less than $40,000, excluding the value of the house/property.
Clause 41C exemption, worth $1,000: This program is for persons who are 65 years of age by July 1, 2108 provided the applicant has lived in Massachusetts for at least 10 years, and has occupied such or other real estate in Massachusetts for 5 years, or is a surviving spouse who has inherited the real estate and has occupied it for 5 years. Income must not exceed $20,000 if single or $30,000 for married persons. Estates must not exceed $40,000 if single or $50,000 if married, (excluding the value of the domicile).
Clause 41A Deferral of up to 100% of taxes: This program allows taxpayers to defer up to 100% of taxes. Deferred taxes will be collected upon transfer of the property with 4% simple interest. This is for persons over 65 years of age as of July 1, 2018, provided that the person has lived in Massachusetts for at least 10 years, OR occupied such or other real estate in Massachusetts for 5 years, OR is a surviving spouse who has inherited the real estate and occupied it for 5 years. Income cannot exceed $40,000. There are no estate limits.
Tax Relief Fund to Aid Elderly and Disabled Persons, $500 limit. This program is for persons 60 or over as of July 1, 2018, provided that the person has lived in Massachusetts for at least 10 years, OR occupied such or other real estate in Framingham for 5 years. Income cannot exceed $30,000 if single or $40,000 if married. Value of estate cannot exceed $100,000 if single or $200,000 if married (excluding domicile). Applications are due between January 1st and March 31st; filed at the Treasurer/Collectors Office.
Senior Tax Work Off Program, Sign Up with Council on Aging, maximum benefit $1,000. This program is for persons 62 years of age or older. Income limit is $50,000 if single and $60,000 if married. Must be a Framingham property owner and resident for at least 5 years. Apply for program between July 1 and August 25th.
- What measures will be utilized to control costs?
The School Building Committee will control project costs in the following three ways: proper budgeting, detailed estimating and multiple documentation reviews. The project budget, based on the detailed schematic design documents, was developed utilizing two independent cost estimators and conservatively includes contingencies for change orders and expected market driven increases in construction costs. This multiple independent cost estimating approach will continue during the detailed design phase. A significant aspect of cost control is having complete, accurate and coordinated construction documents. To accomplish this, there will be multiple independent reviews of the approximately 30%, 60% and 90% completed documents by the OPM, construction manager, MSBA, commissioning agent as well as the architect. Finally, the School Building Committee added the Construction Manager (CM) at Risk methodology to the project. This method, endorsed by the MSBA, provides an additional 1% reimbursement rate and has other benefits. The construction manager will provide real time market based cost estimating, design document reviews and construction logistics planning. MSBA projects using CM at Risk are historically completed on time, and on or under budget.
- What is the commercial tax impact?
The commercial tax impact on average will be approximately 63 cents per $1,000 of valuation. This is based on a 20-year bond utilizing $8 million of the Capital Stabilization fund, which the City proactively saved over the last few years to prepare for this much needed project.
- Is the building design cost efficient?
The new Fuller school is designed to be very cost efficient for the long term. In order to accomplish this, all interior and exterior materials have been selected to combine responsible initial costs with long term durability. Likewise, building systems have been evaluated and selected for long-term cost efficiency. For example, the foundations are designed to be more stable in the long term than those supporting the existing school, so problems won't emerge years from now. In addition, the air-tight and well insulated building envelope, lighting, and HVAC systems are all designed to dramatically reduce operating costs for decades to come
The overall shape of the building is also cost effective. By building three stories rather than two (or one in the case of the existing Fuller), the building has a smaller area of foundations and roof - the most expensive part of the building envelope. In addition, the interior will be faceted (using a series of straight lines) rather than curved to simplify construction - and reduce cost - while maintaining the necessary functional relationships of the interior spaces.
- What are the safety and security measures included in the three-story building design?
The new school will be outfitted with a robust security system which can be monitored in real time by the Framingham Police Department. At the main entry, broad expanses of glass will allow observation of approaching visitors from the main school reception desk to the entry vestibule. The progress of an intruder can therefore be impeded at either line of vestibule doors. It is intended that the vestibule will be attended by administrative personnel facing into the vestibule from the central administration area. If an intruder has passed through the outer security measures of the school, an intruder alarm system can be triggered. Additionally, all classrooms will be provided with roll down shades at windows facing the corridor, so that an intruder could not look directly into classrooms.
In order to allow for community access, the school is also compartmentalized for usage modes in addition to that used during school hours. Access will be allowed through the west entrance vestibule to allow the community to utilize the auditorium and athletic facilities. This vestibule will be outﬁtted with security cameras and electronic door locking hardware, which may be accessed and operated remotely by building security. Sliding metal fabric partitions will prevent access to the main school space.
The ﬂoor plan of the new school has been organized to allow for a prudent balance between the need for school security and the need for a warm and welcoming environment for the grades 6 through 8 population. The transparency and interconnectedness, which are desirable features of the educational program, also make for a favorable scheme for internal school security. It is well known that students are less likely to misbehave if they believe they can be seen. The open ﬂoor plans provide a high degree of visual access from one portion of the school to another. This has been enhanced through the ﬁne adjustment of classroom corridors to allow sightlines to connect the far corners of the school, including all three floors. All the classroom corridors include passive supervision from both teacher planning spaces and cohort commons.
The balconies are designed to allow these visual connections while preserving student safety as a first priority. The student lockers are located on floors two and three to serve double duty as balcony guardrails which exceed building code requirements for height and setbacks. In addition, wherever a work surface is adjacent to a balcony rail, an additional guardrail is provided, so that students are protected even on the off-chance that they were to climb onto the working surface.
- Why was the Debt Exclusion Ballot Vote scheduled for December 11, 2018 and not on the November 6, 2018 State Election day?
State law and regulations require additional steps be taken to allow a municipal ballot question to occur at the same time as state and federal elections. In this case, the required project timeline set by the MSBA in order to secure a sizable state grant caused for a special election date be set. This is because the City Council, School Committee, and School Building Committee all determined the public should know the final cost and project details before scheduling and holding an election.
The project budget was finalized and submitted to MSBA on September 12, 2018, and the MSBA Board voted on October 31, 2018 to fund the project. The Secretary of State requires municipal applications prior to August 1, 2018 - too soon for this project to qualify for November’s ballot. By scheduling the Debt Exclusion Ballot Vote for December 11, 2018, it allowed the City Council to vote to approve the ballot question language after the project budget, design, and state grant amount was finalized. Having the vote as soon as possible after city and state appropriation approvals offers additional benefits for project construction and the new Fuller’s eventual opening (if approved). If the vote was not held until January or February, there would not be enough time to finish all of the construction drawings and bid packages in order to break ground next summer. Keeping to that schedule matters so the school can open at the start of the 2021-22 school year and not cause disruptions by opening in the middle of the school year.
This timeline was anticipated for over a year, and the city proactively budgeted $20,000 in the FY19 budget for the City Clerk’s Office to have the resources to plan and oversee the election.
29. How has the educational culture at Fuller changed in recent years?
Changing culture in any capacity, in any institution takes time, it takes collaboration and cooperation, and it takes strong leadership. We recognize that there is still more work to do in shifting the educational culture at Fuller Middle School, but there are a variety of ways in which this is happening.
- The academic focus at Fuller is RIGOR. School staff have ongoing conversations--in faculty meetings, curriculum meetings, leadership team meetings and professional development about the meaning of rigor and how to ensure all students have access to meaningful instruction that engages them in high level thinking.
- The Fuller Middle School Staff continues to strengthen their ability to engage students in project-based learning and with the support of a newly hired STEAM Coach, school staff are focused on collaboration and the implementation of interdisciplinary units of instruction. This all ties into the STEAM culture of the school.
- Principal Duarte has made and continues to make great efforts to showcase student work. Through Awards Assemblies honoring academics and attendance and other Exhibitions, these showcase opportunities are becoming a centerpiece of the students' education.
- Fuller is in its second year of embedding restorative practices and implementing a school-wide restorative culture. The emphasis of the work is on building supportive adult-student relationships through balanced, positive two-way communication and helping students discover their road map to academic success.
- Out of School Time (OST) Programs at Fuller now run four days a week and offer late buses home to all of its participants, eliminating a major barrier of participation for many students and families. OST Programming at Fuller is designed to support the Schools' Improvement Plan (SIP) by infusing ESL curriculum and a focus on Social Emotional Learning. Clubs include: Robotics, Intramural Soccer, Art, Cultural Cooking, and many more.
For additional information, please visit the project website at: www.fullerbuildingproject.com