Council OKs Schematics for Lowell High Project
LOWELL -- The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to authorize submission of the schematics for the $343 million Lowell High School project to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The 8-0 vote did not include Mayor William Samaras, who was out recuperating from gallbladder surgery.
City Councilor Rita Mercier, who has cited the displacement of the doctors at 75 Arcand Drive in her opposition of the downtown project, said she admits she “lost the battle” and voted to support it.
“I accept defeat. I will always remain sorry for the departure of the dentists, and I hope I don’t have to say Cobblestones, as well,” Mercier said. “But as everyone says, we must move on and therefore I do not want to be the one to stop Lowell High School from being rejuvenated and brought back to the beauty it once had.”
The council previously voted to take 75 Arcand Drive by eminent domain for the high school project, which includes a mix of new construction and renovating the existing buildings.
The complete estimated project cost is about $343.4 million. Of that, $270.4 million represents construction costs. Other costs, like building demolition and hazardous material removal, are estimated at about $17.4 million.
After the MSBA’s reimbursement, the total cost to the city is estimated at about $129.3 million.
Joseph Drown, principal of architect Perkins Eastman, said the schematics will be submitted to the MSBA on Feb. 20, and are expected to be reviewed for approval at the MSBA’s April 10 meeting.
If all goes as planned, construction would begin in early 2021 and be completed in summer 2026, making today’s fourth-graders the first class to graduate from the new high school.
The aging existing high school has been plagued by a myriad of heating, plumbing and other problems, often leading to school closures.
In 2017, different factions within the city battled over whether to renovate and expand the existing facility or build an entirely new high school at Cawley Stadium. The side wanting to keep Lowell High School downtown won out.
Some councilors expressed concern with the large contingencies included cost estimates and the estimated $434.26 per square foot construction cost.
Project Executive Mary Ann Williams, of project manager Skanska, and Drown said the contingencies totaling $60 million are based on previous experience with similar projects and are meant to ensure the city has enough money as the project goes on, especially in the event of unforeseen issues that necessitate additional expenses.
Williams said the per-square-foot construction cost is below average, relative to projects in Arlington and Waltham with costs of $578 per square foot and more than $700 per square foot, respectively.
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