By Mitch Evans
A large portion of last week’s three-hour School Committee meeting was spent on a presentation by Taissir Alani, Facilities Director for Bedford Public Schools. After handing the committee members a detailed copy of the Capital Budget review for fiscal years 2018-2023, Alani proceeded to update the committee on some key school improvement projects that took place over the summer and to talk about plans for the coming years.
With the winter season around the corner, Davis School now has a new emergency generator which will allow all students to stay in school should there be a power outage. And on the subject of power, the installation of new GPS wall clocks at the High School has begun. These new wireless clocks use GPS satellites to synchronize the precise time. In the event of a loss of power, the clocks will continue to be accurate and there will no longer be the need for manual adjustments.
Both Davis and Lane school gymnasiums will have new Personal Address (PA) systems installed and acoustic panels placed in the rafters. The equipment includes wireless speakers and microphones and is a much needed modernization of the old equipment. There are also further improvements afoot for the Davis School gymnasium. The existing hardwood flooring is now overdue for its maintenance cycle. This involves stripping the wood back and then resealing it to ensure that the floor is better protected from damage and wear and tear. This project was last performed 12 years ago and Alani is recommending that the existing taped court lines be replaced with painted lines, which will be harder wearing and easier to repair. As the Recreation Department also offers after school clubs and activities in this space, they have agreed to pay for 25 percent of the $50,000 cost.
Davis School is now entering its third year of a five year lease of rented modular classrooms. The Facilities Department is currently looking at existing design plans for a second floor extension above existing classrooms, to accommodate the increasing population in the school, therefore removing the need for modular classrooms all together. The aim is to be able to present costings and plans at Bedford’s Annual Town Meeting in March 2018 and to begin construction in Summer 2018.
The John Glenn Middle School is now benefiting from two new air circulation units in its windowless basement teaching spaces. The units now provide much better air movement and the students and staff have noticed an improvement. The Facilities Department has also received the green light to install a set of internal security doors at JGMS. These will prevent public access to classrooms when the school is used for general town events and on election days. The auditorium lighting is also due to be overhauled. The existing house lights, which can only be accessed via a confined crawl space in the ceiling, will be replaced with much longer lasting, more energy efficient and better quality LED’s and specialty metal halide bulbs.
With the potential for snow increasing, Alani also presented a request for funds to purchase a snow tractor. Committee members watched a six minute video on the Ventrac brand of ‘sidewalk snow management system’- https://www.ventrac.com/solutions/snow. During his presentation Alani explained that when there is 4-6 inches of snow in Bedford, it takes four people approximately six hours to clear all the high school’s sidewalks, driveways, parking lots and access points.
He then displayed a breakdown of snow removal overtime costs since 2013. Committee member Joann Santiago pointed out that the last four years of overtime payments would have almost paid for the cost of this $50,000 tractor, which has an expected life span of 15 years.
The school facilities department currently has 12 snow blowers (of which three will need replacing this winter) and a small Bobcat excavator.
Lane School Parking Lot Expansion.
At this stage in the evening Alani explained that the Lane School Building Committee had recently been presented with several options by TBA Architects for the parking lot expansion and traffic flow improvement project. Justin Humphreys from TBA Architects, the Concord based firm currently working on Lane School, then presented the same three options to the School committee.
Humphreys explained that during the summer months the smaller east parking lot by the playground, had been expanded and the main parking lot had been reconfigured bringing the total parking spaces currently available to 99. There are presently 88 staff at Lane School and this number is expected to increase over the next few years to 95+. However, with after school events and visitor parking there is still a need for additional spaces.
The options presented were as follows:
- Expansion of the entrance driveway into Lane school off Sweetwater Avenue to allow for a third lane of traffic. This would allow buses to wait in one lane, cars carrying drop offs and pick-ups in the second lane and then the third lane will be for exiting the property.
- Bus loop expansion. There are a total of 14 school buses at Lane and the loop can currently accommodate seven.
- Extension of the main drop off and pick up areas within the main parking lot.
- Further expansion of the smaller east parking lot with 18 more spaces.
- TOTAL parking spaces = 155
- Additional overflow parking allowed in the third lane at after school events. (construction estimate = $437,000)
- Leave main entrance driveway as two lanes but add a second, smaller loop at the bottom of the east parking lot for car drop offs and pickups. This would mean relocating the existing playground.
- Or alternatively; further expand the east parking lot but not add a drop off loop, instead just increase the main parking lot to accommodate drops offs and queueing traffic here instead. This would require moving the playground equipment further into the existing ball park area and relocating the ball park. (construction estimate = $598,000)
- Build a new road from the main parking lot across the school property to join North Road. This would separate buses from car traffic and increase the parking spaces.
- A bridge would need to be built as the road would cross wetlands. The bedrock would also need to be blasted to level the height of the new road to match that of North road (currently a 15-20 ft difference). TCA Architects has consulted with a conservation agent regarding this work. (construction estimate = $1,030,000)
Superintendent Jon Sills explained that the Lane School Building Committee preferred Option 1 for the following reasons:
- The expanded bus loop and the third lane entrance would allow all the buses to line up at the same time and children could then be dismissed at the same time. There would therefore be less movement of traffic.
- Creating a second loop in the smaller lot for drop offs, would block parents’ view of their children actually entering the school. The committee felt that expanding the existing drop off points in the main lots was better.
- Finally, the building committee felt that expanding the driveway entrance to three lanes was valuable as it improved the flow of traffic, increased the parking, and reduced the disruption to the local neighborhood on Sweetwater Avenue during after-school and evening events.
School Committee comments included:
- The importance of a neighborhood meeting with Sweetwater residents to discuss the proposed options and their impact on traffic. Editor’s Note: That meeting was held on Tuesday, October 25 and will be reported in The Citizen
- The need to review Recreation Department programs and school events calendar to determine the level of need for additional parent/visitor parking.