The Douglas-Gates twin school project is entering its next phase, according to school officials at a public forum Monday evening at the RJ Grey Junior High School. This means the project is another step closer to being finalized and presented to state entities and residents for approval.

Acton-Boxborough Superintendent Peter Light, architect Emily Grandstaff-Rice of Arrowstreet architecture firm, and School Building Committee Chairwoman Mary Brolin were present to discuss the status of the project, the roots of which started in the 2015-16 school year.

Changing demographics, crowding, aging buildings, and handicap-accessibility are a few of the factors driving the need for improvements to Acton’s elementary schools. The district will be getting assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Association, a quasi-state government organization that aids communities with school construction costs.

In January, it was announced that the Douglas and Gates Elementary Schools would be combined into a “twin school” on the site of the current Gates School. The new twin school would also have a preschool program.

October decision

Light said the current timelines call for continued design work through the summer with a final design submitted by the early fall. The plans would then be examined by the MSBA which would then determine the reimbursement. This decision would be made in late October. The MSBA’s approval would then trigger a 120-day process where voters in both Acton and Boxborough would need to approve the construction.

According to Brolin, the current plan would be to have concurrent Special Town Meetings in both Acton and Boxborough on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 10. A ballot vote would then be held on the following week on Tuesday, Dec. 17.

Construction for the building would typically take about two years, and they aim to have the building completed by September 2022

Early estimates

Grandstaff-Rice said cost estimates are in the early phases and nothing concrete would be known until  late October.

She said she had some current “early” estimates of construction costs between $120 and $130 million with MSBA reimbursing between 35 and 40 percent. The estimated share for the town of Acton would be between $60 to $68 million. The estimated Boxborough cost would be $10 to $12 million Grandstaff-Rice reiterated that these were not final numbers.

Site limitations and updates

Grandstaff-Rice said the site is attractive with plenty of green space and Fort Pond Brook “dissecting” the site. However, she said, there were environmental restrictions such as wetlands and the brook. This means following environmental guidelines regarding setbacks as well as FEMA flood paints. The bridge on the site would also be improved. It would be widened to accommodate a small plow and a second railing would be added.

School design features

“We’re in the really early stages,” said Grandstaff-Rice. “We’ve got a lot of design to go.”

Light and Grandstaff-Rice said that in preparation, they spoke to the administration for the McCarthy-Towne and Merriam elementary schools located at the Parker-Damon building to receive feedback on what worked in a twin-school setting and what didn’t work as well to aid in design decisions. Also, the new school would be designed to have, at a minimum, a 50-year life span. In that time, Light noted, education programs can change, and the school design needs to be flexible.

The new twin school is proposed to be three stories with the preschool program on the first floor and Gates School on the second floor and the Douglas School on the third floor. Some of the design features include:

Two gymnasiums to be used by the preschool and the Douglas and Gates schools.
A common area.
Media centers and libraries.
Two elevators.
Three sets of stairs.

The new school would have two entryways. The Douglas and Gates Schools would have their entrance with the administrative offices of each school adjacent on either side of the door. The MSBA preferred a single entry point for the two schools. According to Light, it was also good for security. The preschool program would have its own entrance.

Additional information

As the project proceeds, officials said there would be more forums to announce updates. The presentation given by the Grandstaff-Rice is available on the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District’s website’s school building updates web page.