School capital improvement plan includes stadium renovations, innovation lab

Jan 9, 2018

Uncertainty surrounding the school district’s response to overcrowding has left a major overhaul of school buildings with a question mark on the district’s five-year capital improvement plan.

The draft plan of major building projects, unveiled at the January 8 School Committee meeting, lists the implementation of the district’s facilities master plan in 2020, but without a price tag.

School Business Administrator James Kiely said uncertainty in how to proceed, and a lack of a response from the Massachusetts School Building Authority in feedback and potential reimbursements led to pushing it to at least 2020. Kiely said even then it is uncertain if the district would be ready to push the project forward.

“At this point it’s hard for us to determine a recommendation that would be supported through the facilities master plan without that information,” Kiely said.

Initial drafts of the facilities master plan revealed all elementary school buildings except Quinn are overcrowded when compared to current Massachusetts School Building Authority guidelines. Solutions architects recommended range in estimated cost from $54 million to $86 million.

For 2019, school officials are again prioritizing a major renovation of Memorial Stadium. It aims to replace the stadium’s current natural grass with artificial turf, make improvements to lighting systems, and revamp seating and bleachers.

“I think it’s realistic,” Kiely said. “Everything is a matter of priorities and how this project falls with the overall town capital improvement plan, but it is reasonable to expect it will be done.”

The renovation had been listed as a priority on the district’s capital improvement agenda for the past several years, but each year it had to be dropped due to funding constraints.

Last year, a committee was formed to oversee the renovation. The committee elected to hire an architect to study current field conditions and come up with recommendations. The search for an architect is expected to continue until March.

An additional project on the 2019 agenda would use $250,000 in School Choice funds to build an “innovation lab” at the high school. School Choice allows students from surrounding communities to attend school in Dartmouth. Districts sending their kids to Dartmouth pay to reimburse tuition costs. The balance currently sits at $450,000, which has remained mostly untouched.

It is pitched to compliment the district’s $500,000 Massachusetts Skills Capital Grant, which was awarded last year. Officials plan to purchase 3D printers, electronic anatomical models, and other high-tech STEM tools through the grant. The middle school library would also benefit from the project.

“It’s a good use [for School Choice funds] because it’s not a recurring cost and it supports all students in the high school and middle school,” Kiely said.

Also on the docket for 2019 is a $275,000 boiler retrofit and replacement at Dartmouth Middle School. A similar project was done at the high school through a grant last year, which is already saving money, and the aim is to fund it with another grant. Continued hardware upgrades are also on the plan, with $200,000 to continue the district’s tech upgrade cycle. The final item on the 2019 agenda is $90,000 in kitchen equipment replacements.

The capital plan also lists major projects up until 2023. The biggest item on the docket for 2020’s $2.09 million proposal is $550,000 to repave deteriorating parking lots at several schools.

In 2021 the district plans to seek $300,000 out of $1.35 million to replace furniture. In 2022 the district lists $300,000 out of $1.3 million for HVAC upgrades, and $600,000 out of $1.3 million in 2023 to replace bleachers at Quinn and the middle school.