TYNGSBORO — City ratepayers shouldn’t look a few miles downriver from Lowell for clues about the future direction of the costs of the city’s proposed new college.
Lowell is in “a bad, unlucky place,” with $38 million in cost overruns on the Lowell High School project, David Saindon, project manager for the Tyngsboro Middle School project, said during a briefing. a recent community forum seeking public comment on the project.
The school construction committee held 48 public meetings. These forums and meetings resulted in an educational project for the school intended to serve the city over the next 50 years.
Of Lowell, Saindon said, “They’re just in a situation, and they’re not alone, with projects where they’re budgeting and then they’ve had 2021.” The $334 million construction cost for Lowell High was set in 2020. According to Saindon, 2021 was a time of “unprecedented” escalation in construction costs.
His comments mirrored a presentation given to city officials by Suffolk Construction and Skanska. The Lowell project has multiple phases – tenders for materials for Phases 2-4 began in February 2021 and continued through December.
During the Lowell High auction window, according to the presentation, steel mill products were up 139% on average, lumber and plywood were up 64%, plastic building products were up increased by 40% and aluminum plant forms increased by 38%. In addition, gypsum products increased by 24%.
The $82 million cost for Tyngsboro Middle School was set last month during a meeting with the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Unless a community feels they can foot the entire bill for a new school, there is a need to work with the MSBA. In Tyngsboro, for example, there are plans to provide $28 million in funding that would otherwise be paid for by taxpayers.
The two real estate projects should in no way be compared, according to Saindon. “You’d be comparing an extremely complicated high school project that unfortunately had bad timing.”
As an example, Saindon cited Lowell High’s “stretched” construction schedule of 68 months, while Tyngsboro Middle School’s schedule is 24 months.
Reports of Lowell High’s cost overruns prompted a flurry of posts on Tyngsboro’s social media sites. In addition to warnings about Lowell High, some have questioned estimates of student body sizes.
“We’re designing a school for the next 50 years,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Flanagan said when answering a question about why the student body is expected to grow from 393 today to 480 over several decades.
The building used today as a college was once a high school and then an elementary school as the school population and teaching methods evolved.
Flanagan said he sent data to the MSBA two years ago and the 480 estimate came back. The school department is not expecting 480 students when the school opens.
The existing school opened in 1968. Despite renovations over time, the school has “now reached the end of its useful life,” Flanagan said.
Another forum will be held in April before the first vote on school funding. The municipal assembly votes on May 3 on a debt exclusion. If the debt exclusion gets the required two-thirds vote, a question on the May 17 municipal election ballot to raise and appropriate $82 million needs a simple majority to pass.
If either vote fails, Tyngsboro’s 11-year quest to build a new college will be set back years. The proposal may have to wait another seven or eight years before the MSBA considers it again.