One of the questions asked by a few community members is about Northfield High School and the School Board’s decision to seek approval to build a new facility rather than renovating the current building. If you are just reading this for the first time, please review details provided by the District at https://northfieldschools.org/referendum for additional background information.
During our District presentations, I have shared there is a conservative estimate of $14 million in age-related maintenance and improvements at the high school over the next decade. These projects include things like replacing the original single-paned windows, electrical updates, masonry work, and numerous other projects at the school. It does not include major renovations that positively impact teaching and learning. These maintenance projects are not the result of neglect, rather those of an aging building.
What would it cost to renovate vs. new construction?
ATS&R, the architectural firm that has been consulting on the District’s Master Facilities Plan, estimates a substantial renovation would range from $38-$46 million to address the numerous age-related maintenance issues and to provide the kinds of improved classroom spaces, career and technical education laboratories, and other upgrades our students need. Due to the current building’s layout, additions would be required to create enough space to provide the kind of flexible learning environments needed to support today and tomorrow’s learners. For comparison, a new building is estimated to cost $74.5 million ($78.5 million including the demolition of the current structure.)
What would the student experience be like during a renovation?
A renovation of this magnitude could take up to three years and would displace students during the entire process. It would require the purchase/lease of portable classrooms at significant expense (in addition to the renovation cost) where students would attend class while parts of the building during renovation. As a portion of the building is renovated, teachers and their students would be relocated to the portable classrooms. Needless to say, this would not be an optimal environment for learning. An on-site renovation is loud, dusty, requires numerous changes in the building traffic patterns, and other construction-related disruptions. Some students could attend up to three-quarters of their high school career during such a renovation. A renovation would only partially address security concerns. While a new secure front entrance could be added, the existing structure’s 50 exits would remain due to fire code needs for emergency exiting.
Why demolish the current high school?
The District and School Board understand the reluctance to demolish a building — something that is included in this proposal. When the School Board debated this part of the proposal, it thoughtfully considered several points. First, the analysis suggests that demolition is most likely more cost-effective. Building a new high school in a location other than the existing site would require the acquisition of land at great expense. It would require substantial site development to ensure the soil is prepared for such a new facility. Then, a road would need to be constructed to gain access to the new building — again at great expense and in cooperation with the relevant city or county jurisdictions. Finally, since the building would typically be constructed somewhere on the edge of town, there would be an ongoing increase in transportation costs to bus students to the new facility. When compared to the four million dollars it would cost to demolish the current facility to re-locate the athletic fields lost to the new building, a new site would not be as cost-effective as one might initially think.
A renovation is often a good option…but not always.
There are many times when repurposing or renovation makes sense. In fact, the District shows its commitment to renovation and repurposing in the plans to use the current Greenvale Park Elementary as a district-wide early childhood center and the plans to move District administrators to Longfellow School when the current preschool and daycare programming moves to the early childhood facility. It is far less attractive to repurpose Northfield High School given current circumstances. Please contact me with any questions you might have about our upcoming operating levy and bond referendum election. My goal is to make sure you have enough information to make an informed decision on November 7th.