Foster School Project FAQ

1.What is the Foster School Building Project?

William L. Foster Elementary School was built in 1951 and has had two additions/renovations in 1957 and 1974. An additional $3.5 million was invested to make various improvements between 2008 and 2010. Though the building has been well-maintained over the years, the outdated mechanical systems make it increasingly challenging to operate and maintain and the many interior classrooms and small communal spaces have a significant negative impact on the ability to deliver an educational program designed to meet the needs of students in the 21st century.

2.What is the Foster School Building Committee?

The 2017 School Building Committee or “Foster School Building Committee” as it is often called (“SBC”) was established by Hingham voters at the 2017 Annual Town Meeting. The establishment of a School Building Committee is a requirement to participate in the MSBA school building grant programs. A School Building Committee is responsible for all aspects of a school building project, as required by MSBA statutes and regulations. The SBC is directly responsible for exploring the feasibility of a potential school building project and oversight of design and construction work associated with the preferred option chosen by the SBC and supported by the MSBA.

3.What is the MSBA?

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (“MSBA”) is a quasi-independent government authority created to reform the process of funding capital improvement projects in the Commonwealth’s public schools. The MSBA strives to work with local communities to create affordable, sustainable, and energy efficient schools across Massachusetts. Additional information about the MSBA may be found on the MSBA website.

4.What is the benefit of working with the MSBA?

The funding that the MSBA contributes to school projects is significant.  The source of MSBA funding is 1 cent of the sales tax charged in Massachusetts. For a project of this scale, the Town can expect a reimbursement in the tens of millions of dollars. For 2022, when the Foster project expects to receive final MSBA approval, the MSBA base reimbursement rate has been set at 36.89%. The actual reimbursement the Town receives will be determined once the project scope and budget is approved, taking into account any additional reimbursement points that may be available in connection with the pursuit of LEED certification, which confirms green and sustainable design and operational features, and an approved maintenance plan.  The actual grant reimbursement is also offset by any costs deemed ineligible or that exceed the MSBA’s existing thresholds.

5.How is our community included in this process?

The SBC is committed to transparency and inclusiveness in how it oversees this project on behalf of Hingham residents. For the Foster project to be successful, it requires community input, support, and approval. The SBC, working with our Owner’s Project Manager (“OPM”), PMA Consultants, and our Architect/Designer, Raymond Design Associates (“RDA”), has and will continue to reach out to the community as work progresses through the Schematic Design and Design Development phases of the project. There will be many opportunities for parents, educators and community members to provide critical input that will help inform the design of the new Foster Elementary School. Please continue to monitor this site and the SBC Facebook page for project news, updates and community outreach events. 

6.What are the different phases of the project and how long will each phase, including construction, take?

With the completion of the Feasibility Phase in January 2022, Schematic Design work has begun and continued into the late Spring of 2022. The goal of the SBC is to pursue an aggressive schedule during the planning and design phases so that a new school can be built and opened in September 2024.  A warrant article passed at the April Town Meeting for interim funding to complete design development and preparation of an early site work bid package pending MSBA Board approval.  MSBA approval of the schematic design, scope and budget for the project is anticipated on August 31, 2022.  Following that approval, a special Town Meeting will be held in November for consideration of a warrant article seeking to fund construction costs.  If the proposed schedule remains on track, site preparation could begin during early winter 2022-2023, with vertical construction work beginning in late spring after a second round of bidding.  Once the new school is substantially complete, the existing Foster school will be demolished and site work including parking and recreational space will be developed during the fall of 2024 and into 2025

7.What is the value of rebuilding the Foster School to people who either don’t live in the Foster district or don’t have children in the Hingham Public Schools?

Investing in our schools benefits the entire community. Community engagement is a shared responsibility in raising the next generation and according to the US Department of Education, school building infrastructure components are crucial for learning. Additionally, schools provide public common space, accessible for public meetings, voting, emergency shelters, and are available for use by community groups and organizations for programs and events held after school hours. The Foster school is, and will continue to be, an anchor for the Crow Point neighborhood and the greater north Hingham community. Good public schools, like we have in Hingham, are valuable for more than just the curriculum they deliver.  They help sustain property values and entice new families to join the community.  Finally, capital investments in buildings and infrastructure create lasting benefits to a community and to society in general, particularly when those investments help close achievement gaps and help bring members of a community together. 

The School Building Committee (SBC) recognizes that there is a need for space for various community events, including athletic contests, artistic performances and large group assemblies. The proposed building design will include a section of the school that will be available for public use during non-school hours. It includes a large gym with bleachers and a cafeteria with a stage for concerts, performances and other presentations.,  The site will include an athletic field, softball diamond, tennis courts and an accessible playground, all of which will be available to the public during non-school hours.

8.When will the construction start and end? When would students be in the new school?

The current plan is for construction to begin in the Spring of 2023 and continue until August of 2024. The goal is for students and staff to be in the new building in September 2024. Demolition of the current school will occur in the Summer of 2024 and additional site work will continue into early 2025. 

9.My child is at Foster. Will he/she need to move to a different school during construction?

No, students will remain in the current building during construction until the new school is open, which is anticipated to be in September 2024. Limiting disruption by allowing students and staff to remain in the current building is the same approach that was used when Hingham built the new middle school. 

10.What will happen to the athletic fields and tennis courts during construction?

During construction, the existing athletic fields and tennis courts will be unavailable as they will be part of the construction zone. Play space and play structures will be relocated to other parts of the school property to allow for recess and other activities. After the new school is occupied and the site work is complete, the property will include an athletic field, softball diamond, and tennis courts, which will be available to the public during non-school hours. 

11.Was a traffic study done? How will traffic be managed during construction?

Yes, a traffic study was done in the Fall of 2021. During construction, a separate access drive will be added to the left of the school for all construction and emergency vehicles. The construction area will be fenced off and secured at all times.

12.How was the enrollment number determined? Does the new enrollment number allow for growth?

The SBC assisted with an enrollment study undertaken by the school department in 2018 using a well-known consultant, New England School Development Council (NESDEC). Using the completed enrollment study, the MSBA performed its own independent study resulting in a design enrollment of up to 605 students. Currently there are 419 students at Foster, which is down approximately 70 students over the past year due to the COVID pandemic. The allowance for an anticipated growing enrollment will accommodate additional children who live in the Foster School district and will allow Hingham Public Schools to meet its goal of expanding its Pre-K and Special Education programs. Additional details about these proposed programs are provided in the Education Plan, a required document that was prepared in connection with the MSBA process. 

13.What is the potential base reimbursement rate from the MSBA for this project? How was the rate determined?

The anticipated base reimbursement rate for this project is 36.89%, which was newly set for 2022, the year the MSBA project funding agreement is expected to be executed.  According to the MSBA, reimbursement rates for MSBA approved, eligible school construction and renovation projects are calculated pursuant to a formula that is established by Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 70B section 10 (M.G.L. c. 70B § 10). The formula takes various socioeconomic factors of the Town into account to determine its base reimbursement rate.

14.How will this new building support Hingham’s climate action planning efforts and the Town’s goal of reducing our fossil fuel use and carbon emissions?

The SBC is planning to build an all-electric building that will meet the needs of students and our community for decades to come in an effort to achieve the Town’s sustainable development goals . The SBC’s commitment in this area supports the Hingham Climate Action Planning Committee’s goal of significantly reducing the Town’s carbon emissions by 2040. The proposed building design is situated facing south to maximize the sun’s positive impact. This positioning enables the architect to incorporate a design that includes a solar-ready roof and several south facing windows and light-wells to carry natural light to all levels of the building. The SBC has already engaged with members of the Climate Action Planning Committee, Hingham Municipal Lighting Plant, the Hingham Net-Zero group and the Conservation department to help us ensure our school design achieves sustainability goals while protecting precious natural resources that are prevalent at the Foster site.

15.I understand that Foster School is next to wetlands and in a flood zone. What will be done to mitigate the risk of flooding and protect the environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the school?

Foster School is located on a thirty-nine acre parcel of land, most of which consists of various ecosystems, which will provide a rich outdoor learning experience for students. The site also includes several constraints, including wetlands, a steep hillside, tidal marsh and flood zone area. The SBC believes that its preferred option, chosen from among 10 different possibilities after months of consideration, is the best option for taking full advantage of the natural elements of the site while also minimizing the impact to the surrounding natural areas. The proposed design faces south, which takes advantage of the southern sun exposure and views of the marsh. The preferred option chosen by the SBC addresses the projected 2070 flood zone concerns by raising the grade of the Foster School site several feet above the current level of most of the existing site. This raised grade will place the new school above the the projected 2070 storm surge flood plain level.


16.Is this a suitable time to build as construction costs have increased significantly since the middle school was built, and cost per square footage is far more than Public Safety building?

It’s difficult to compare the two building projects. The school building will be significantly larger than the Public Safety building and is being constructed on a particularly challenging site that contains several physical constraints and natural resource areas that need to be protected. The school will have specifically designed spaces to accommodate and support 21st century learning for a design enrollment of 605 K-5 students, plus a pre-K population and Kids-in-Action programming. A sizable portion of the Public Safety facility will be garage bays that will house fire trucks and ambulances. The level of detailed design between the two is not comparable. 

If not now, when? Construction costs will never again be as low as they were 10 years ago, and they won’t be decreasing any time soon according to the professional cost estimators engaged to work on our project. Hingham has been awarded a significant grant to pursue the building project now. If the community does not vote to fund the project, Hingham loses that contribution and the opportunity to address the significant issues that have impacted Foster students and staff for many years. To be considered for an MSBA project grant in the future, Hingham would have to go back to the beginning and start the process again, which could take 5 years or even longer and there’s no guaranty we would be chosen again. 

The reality is that this school project needed to be done over a decade ago. The 2006 School Facilities Study recommended the pursuit of a project to address the then-existing issues that negatively impacted the delivery of curriculum. In the ensuing years, mechanical systems have continued to deteriorate and falter, requiring costly repairs and even evacuation of the building. 

Given the condition of Foster, can we afford to wait any longer? We also now have grant funding from MSBA. Are we willing to risk waiting and lose the opportunity to save Hingham taxpayers tens of millions of dollars? If we were to choose to wait and pursue a project independent of the MSBA, it would be no less costly, and we would lose even more time while students and staff wait for a solution. If the Foster building project does not move forward now, the Town would also have to invest significantly in the upkeep, maintenance, and repair of the current Foster building. 

The overwhelming feedback from constituents questioned was that it is important to the Crow Point neighborhood, as well as nearby neighborhoods, to keep Foster and its successor a neighborhood school that allows for a walking community of students. The school will also include a gymnasium, cafetorium, multi-purpose room, softball field, and tennis courts that are all a benefit to the wider community. In addition, the new building will provide for an expansion of the integrated preschool program, which will allow enhanced early childhood education for the whole community. Space in the new school will also allow the expansion of the Kids-in-Action (KIA) program providing much needed additional space for this popular and revenue-generating before and after-school program.

17.What costs does the MSBA not cover? Should we be adding components that have been excluded by MSBA? Is it prudent to build when costs are ineligible?

In the MSBA regulations there are certain costs that are ineligible for reimbursement with grant dollars. For instance, the MSBA defines any construction cost above $360/square foot as ineligible for reimbursement, but the construction costs for the elementary schools approved by the MSBA over the past five years have averaged well over that threshold. The MSBA also limits its reimbursement participation for site work to 8% of the building construction cost. Given its unique physical characteristics, the Foster project is unusual in that it will require much more site work than all but five of the last thirty-eight elementary schools funded by the MSBA over the past five years. Only about a quarter of the required site costs for this project will be eligible for reimbursement since they exceed 8% of the building cost by a wide margin. 

This project does include a number of other ineligible cost items (e.g., the cost of technology and furnishings that exceed the reimbursable allowances for these categories), but these are consistent with every other school building project undertaken under the MSBA core building program and are appropriate to accommodate Hingham’s educational program. 

Though the school has been designed primarily to meet the needs of the educational program, it also allows for use as community space. For example, the gym includes space to accommodate bleacher seating, which is not a reimbursable expense but allows for its use by the community. SBC discussed at some length lessons learned from prior school building projects in Hingham. There have been complaints for 13 years about the shallow sideline space and limited bleacher seating available in the East Elementary gym. Providing for the additional space will better serve the intended uses by students and the larger community.

Another example of a potentially non-reimbursable cost would be the cost of the demolition of the existing school If we were able to build on a different site (which doesn’t exist), If we were to build in another location, any acquisition cost for the land would also not be reimbursable by MSBA. These would be additional non-reimbursable costs to the Hingham taxpayer in addition to the costs of the school and site development. As part of the contemplated project being pursued, the demolition of the existing Foster school will be fully reimbursable to the extent of Hingham’s approved reimbursement rate.

18.What will Foster look like compared to new elementary schools in surrounding towns? What is the square footage of new school and how does it compare to sq ft/ student at other schools in town (and MSBA Standard)?

Remember that the school was designed through a thoughtful visioning process that included students, educators, and families. The District then developed a comprehensive Education Plan as required by the DESE and MSBA, and the design has evolved from the underlying guiding principles contained in that plan.

The programmatic spaces in the design reflect the District’s detailed Educational Plan, which is a requirement of participating in the MSBA grant program. The MSBA takes the compilation of an Educational Plan very seriously given that it serves as the foundation for all the planning and detailed design of both the school and the site that follows. In Foster’s case, the MSBA carefully reviewed the District’s initial Educational Plan and requested clarifications and refinements. In the end, it was approved only after two detailed reviews by the MSBA. Only then was the District allowed to proceed into the schematic design phase via an MSBA Board of Directors vote.

No two MSBA-funded elementary schools look the same, though they all must conform to MSBA Guidelines and approved modifications. The new school design followed prescriptive MSBA guidelines for elementary schools, but like all other MSBA projects, it includes a limited amount of additional programmatic spaces to meet the unique needs of Hingham’s  Educational Program (e.g. the Gymnasium bleachers, the Multi-Purpose Room for KIA and Field Science, Administrative Spaces for the Special Education program, etc.).  The entire design being presented to the voters has been reviewed and approved by the MSBA.

The total square footage of the proposed Foster building is 126,385. 

As noted above, the MSBA has prescriptive guidelines for building elementary schools including the sizes and types of various rooms. Some of the space design can vary depending on the District’s specific educational program. There is allowable square footage (most of which is reimbursable, some of which is not) in the design to accommodate some areas beyond MSBA guidelines including additional administrative and special education space, Pre-K classrooms, space for an expanded KIA program and a larger gym to provide wider sidelines and space for fan bleachers. 

The MSBA provides a ‘broad brush’ square footage allotment per pupil in a District’s Space Summary (e.g., 605 K-5 pupils) by way of an algorithm, but it is only generated to set a parameter against which to review and finalize the eventual square footage required to accommodate the proposed Educational Program. It is safe to say that every elementary school approved by the MSBA has exceeded this ‘starting point.’  

As an example, the 63,843 square feet of ‘net program space’ that came out of the MSBA’s algorithm for Foster was based on 605 K-5 students, a generic Special Education program, and no Pre-Kindergarten program. The approved net square footage, accommodating the District’s Educational Plan is 84,753. Reimbursable program-related overages include 11,850 sf for five Pre-Kindergarten CR’s, a Spanish CR, an English Language Learners small group room, and a Computer Lab, along with synchronizing up the number of classrooms per grade. Other approved programmatic square footage includes 3,690 sf for the school’s Special Education program (all of which is reimbursable), 1,000 sf for the aforementioned gymnasium bleachers, 1,570 sf for Special Education administrative offices, 2,500 sf for the revenue-generating Kids-in-Action multi-purpose room and office, and two other small staff spaces. When mechanical, circulation, and other ‘back of house’ areas are accounted for, the Foster school has a ‘net to gross’ ratio of 1.49 (bringing the proposed gross square footage up to its 126,385), which is under the MSBA allowable ratio of 1.50, demonstrating an efficient plan layout.

19.

What additional operational costs will there be relating to the new elementary school? Is there an estimate of operational cost savings delivered by energy or other efficiencies built into the facility? Are there additional operational costs incurred for staffing or new programming that will increase the annual school budget?

The maintenance costs for the existing Foster Elementary School are significant. Specific training of the custodians is needed to maintain the aging boilers.

The heating system in general, as well as plumbing, and electrical systems, require constant repairs, most notably in connection with the aging electrical system and failing steam pipe distribution infrastructure. 

The building is often too hot or too cold at various times of the year depending on several factors. At times, the students have been evacuated due to failing heat and other infrastructure issues. During the height of the COVID pandemic, because there was inadequate ventilation in several classrooms, St. Jerome, a closed catholic grade school, was leased to house portions of Foster’s grade levels. Students were bussed to Weymouth daily for months to attend “Foster North.”  This was a costly and unfavorable situation that could not be avoided. 

Though the new school will be 75% larger than Foster is currently, the ‘cost per square foot’ of utilities for the new school will be less than it has been over the past three years (not including FY 2020 which was COVID-related), AND it includes much greater ventilation and full air-conditioning which will have a positive impact on learning during the fall and spring when temperatures outside can be quite high.

In terms of changes in staffing needs for the new building, to the extent that there is new special education programming, then staffing related to the new programs will be needed. No other significant changes are expected at this time. As enrollment grows as expected over time, additional teachers may be needed and consideration of that would be part of the regular annual budget process and not driven by this project specifically.

20.For tuition-based programming (i.e., KIA, etc.), if programming is increased, will costs be covered?

Costs for Kids in Action (KIA) are currently covered by tuition and the program generates positive revenue. In addition to covering its own operational costs, the program provides an annual contribution as an offset to the school department budget. Currently, we do not have sufficient building space to provide for all the children who wish to attend KIA and have a waiting list. Expansion of the program to KIA will serve to accommodate many more Hingham families in need of this service. 

For non-sped preschool students, tuition covers costs. Services for special education students will be paid by the school district budget. This is true regardless of whether there is a new school.

21.Would we look at redistricting the other elementary schools to ensure class sizes are comparable across the four elementary schools?

The redistricting of the other elementary schools to ensure class sizes are comparable across the four elementary schools is not a consideration for now. Hingham Public Schools values its neighborhood schools. We currently do not have overcrowding in any schools. However, as the student population is expected to increase, the proposed new elementary school will provide flexibility to ensure overcrowding does not become a problem in the future. The school committee has a policy on preferred class size enrollments that allows for comparable services across the District. 

22.

Will out-of-district tuition go down as a result of Special Ed programming at the new elementary school? Will additional SPED programming built into the facility enable more students to stay in district and therefore save on out of district costs?

The students in need of out-of-district placement require the program and services that are provided. The District currently lacks space to develop substantially separate special education programs. The new elementary school will provide specific spaces for the development of such programs that will allow for some of these student needs to be met in the district. These are programs that we have never been able to offer in the past due to a lack of available space. 

The District values the contributions of all our students. By ensuring we are providing more opportunities for meeting the needs of our students with disabilities, our community, in addition to our students, is enhanced. 

23.Do we have to fully open at the opening of the new school or is it possible to increase over time, i.e., staffing and furniture/fixtures.

Furniture and fixtures are reimbursed at a certain rate (a maximum of $1,200 per pupil). The current building likely does not have any furniture that would be reusable in the new building. Any furniture and equipment anticipated to be utilized in the new school needs to be purchased as part of this project to be eligible for reimbursement. 

We will staff for the enrollment needs of the school building at the given time. The staffing and the proposed budgeting will reflect then-current enrollment. 

24.What process did you go through to determine the building configuration and placement on the site?

The SBC looked at 11 different configurations for the building and the site as part of its Feasibility process. (Options A though I plus G.1 and H.1)

The SBC’s decision to pursue Option F (the preferred option and current design plan) is thoroughly documented in the two attached Sections from the District’s “Preferred Schematic Report” - submitted to the MSBA on January 6th, 2022. The MSBA endorsed the SBC’s selection and granted it permission to pursue the development of Option F in its Schematic Design phase. 

 It was the least expensive of the final options, while providing the best site layout with the most exterior play and learning space and optimal use of the site’s natural attributes. It was clearly the ‘best value’ for the town.


25.Is there a deeper explanation, other than inflation, of the cost estimate increase over the past 6 months even though the design is largely the same?

Per the project’s professional cost estimator:  

“The current market conditions are causing difficulties for cost estimators and, in particular, relating to bid analysis.  However, our cost estimates on large projects in the Northeast are holding up well against overall bid ranges and against low bids. 

That said, on several high-profile projects recently, we have seen a concerning trend which has led us to do some deeper investigations, including sharing appropriate discussions with other cost estimating companies, large subcontractors, and construction managers to establish rational explanations.”

Below is a summary of the issues which are causing this current volatility – some issues have been apparent for a few months, but others have become known more recently.

  • Subcontractors who successfully bid projects in 2021 are now losing money heavily as they had not anticipated current market conditions (due to reasons listed below). This situation has prompted them to include additional money in their current bids in an attempt to recover the lost money on current active projects.
  • Labor shortages – during COVID, there were significant lay-offs and the contracting companies have not been confident enough to restore their labor forces nor have they been able to find quality personnel in the region. This has resulted in a low appetite among larger contractors and subcontractors and a desire to focus on larger more profitable projects. Smaller projects with a low probability of making a good profit are being bid at higher prices. This results in a bid strategy of “here’s what we will do the job for if we win it.” This is not a competitive bidding strategy. Also, the “traveling” labor force (which tends to gravitate to cities or locations where there is work and where there are profitable projects) hasn’t aided the labor shortage in Metro Boston as it did pre-Covid.
  • Supply chain problems and lead times – this is well-documented (see below items also). Equipment vendors are quoting extremely long lead times and equipment which until recently was on 4 to 6 weeks delivery is now being quoted out beyond 20 weeks. This is creating another element of risk which contractors and subcontractors are having to deal with.
  • Rising fuel costs.
  • Equipment pricing by vendors – the vendors have no risk associated with their prices and therefore, they have been increasing their quoted costs to cover themselves for price fluctuations. Contractors have no alternative than to accept the quotes. Furthermore, vendors are only holding their prices for a few weeks which makes it a very risky proposition for contractors bidding projects of longer construction durations. Some vendors are refusing to commit to pricing until they have approved shop drawings which is leading to an elevated level of risk for bidders (see risk comments below)
  • Stock-piling materials – larger contracting organizations have stock-piled materials predicting or sometimes knowing that there are shortages. For example, roofing materials and PVC conduit. Contractors buying materials are facing higher prices because of low inventories at the suppliers and coupled with this, suppliers are only selling some materials in very limited quantities. This presents big problems for bidders on larger projects, where greater quantities will be needed.
  • Contractors are pricing risk at higher-than-normal levels because of the above factors and it is extremely difficult to analyze this. The intangible costs in current bids make it problematic to reconcile a cost estimate to bids received.