Mass. sees flurry of plans for pricey high schools

The Boston Globe | By James Vaznis
November 25, 2016

somhiEight years after a nearly $200 million high school in Newton shattered state spending records, several cities are pursuing school projects with even larger price tags — a reflection of how the state’s red-hot construction market is driving up costs.

At least two projects are on track to exceed Newton North High School’s high-water mark by tens of millions of dollars: Somerville voters this month approved a $257 million reconstruction of its high school, and Waltham officials are exploring site options for a new high school that could cost $283 million.

Meanwhile, Fall River and Lowell are in the early stages of developing plans to rebuild high schools with price tags expected to exceed $200 million.

State and local officials stress that the high costs are not due to districts engaging in a game of one-upmanship to build Taj Mahal high schools. Most of the new projects do not include such pricey amenities as swimming pools, which prompted criticism in Newton.

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Rather, officials say the price tags reflect two harsh realities: the unique challenges of rebuilding high schools on tight sites in densely populated cities, and the growing pressures all school systems face in competing with the private sector for construction contractors when there is a shortage of skilled labor.

“Any time costs go up, we have to be concerned,” said Jack McCarthy, executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which oversees the state’s public school construction program. “And more and more of the costs will have to be borne by the districts.”

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