Sunday Notes – LHS Project Edition

So Many questions that need to be addressed…

The LOWELL City Council has a fiduciary responsibility to the TAXPAYERS of LOWELL ONLY!

So any statements that Cawley is $13-$16 million cheaper is false.

The truth is Cawley to the Lowell Residential / Commercial Taxpayer is somewhere around $8,928,164 more plus the cost of traffic improvement, field replication and sidewalks adding approx. $6,220,000 making Cawley approx. $15,148,164 more than Option 3 (based on the 4 story build – if we use the 5 story build it is approx. $12,427,015 more)

However that is less than the original estimate that Cawley was going to be $21,923,164 more to the Lowell taxpayer.

LHS Add/ Reno Option # 3 – Total Cost $ 334,335,971
City Contribution $ 126,417,978

New School Cawley Site – Total Cost $ 332,458,871
City Contribution $ 148,341,142

The difference between Option 3 at a build schedule of 4.5 years ($281 tax increase) and a Cawley 4 story 3 year build ($299 tax increase) to the taxpayer before adding in the “other cost” is only $18. Even if you add in another $6,200,000 your talking about roughly a cost of $40 ($339 tax increase) more a year.

These numbers make Cawley a much more realistic option. If you just look at the cost provided by Skanska / Perkins Eastman you probably would say Cawley is now a no brainer

However you can’t just look at that, much more has to be considered.

Option 2 is only $510,000 cheaper than Option 3 and $15.00 a year less to the taxpayer it is $1,080,000 less than a 4 story Cawley building which is $33 dollars a year less to the taxpayer. The fact that it includes $2,616,225 for 2 years of Temp Facilities Gym space should kill that option. Better choices exist for not much more cost. Councilor’s should not make the citizens “settle” for this option.

If the City was really interested in Option 3 why not put the price at $5,000,000 instead of $2,000,000 and be done with it? Because the Administration knows they have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer and can’t overpay what they believe is the actual value.

The 2 options for Cawley exist because some building committee members are concerned about a five story building for a High School. Yet the downtown options include a 5 story Freshman Wing. That argument for that is it is only a small section of a much larger multi-building campus.

Question 1 – The Overall cost of Option 3 which still holds the Eminent Domain price at $2,000,000 went from $334,335,971 to $352,559,455 UP $18,223,484 resulting in the City share going from $ 126,417,978 UP $16,814,679 to $143,232,657. How much of that involves additional contingency money and what is that exact dollar amount? Showing % is not enough information.

Question 2 – Does the Overall increase in Option 3 include any potential soil mitigation for the 75 Arcand Dr. property ?

Question 3 – What happens to any unused Contingency funds? Does it go to the MSBA to lower the cost? Is it just not borrowed therefore decreasing the city cost?

Question 4 – The Overall cost of Cawley goes from $332,458,871 UP $6,693,311 to $339,152,182 resulting in the City share going from $148,341,142 to $152,160,821 UP ONLY $3,819,679? What is this cost increase?

Question 5 – What is the total dollar contingency for Cawley?

Question 6 – There is no explanation of how a construction site would effect downtown traffic or where the staging area for construction material would be. Why not?

Question 7 – It appears that in the transportation response motion there is a possibility that eminent domain would be needed on Rogers Street but the proposed $2.5 million cost estimate doesn’t include right-of-way acquisition costs. Why not? and what would it be?

Question 8 – There is no explanation or report explaining if the Cawley site still requires Zoning – Board of Parks and Conservation Commission approval. What is the answer?

Do any of these questions justify a delay in voting? Supposedly some councilor’s are worried about re-election and want to delay the vote to get a better reading of the political winds. Is that fair to the public and doesn’t it just drag on the divide rather than voting on June 13th and beginning the healing process?

Those Councilor’s who have voiced opposition to using Eminent Domain would seem to be putting themselves into a contradictional situation if they voted to follow the traffic mitigation suggestions to make Cawley more feasible. How can you take portions of many businesses and/or residential properties when you won’t take a particular one?

The possibility to build and/or renovate the existing site for economic development is intriguing based on the information provided but how much of that is hampered by the Historical Restrictions?

After re-reading all the supplied information again last night, The 2 remaining issue in my view are busing cost and the impact it has on the operations budget, but the biggest concern is traffic.

The Traffic Impact isn’t only on Belvidere but also directly on Centralville and Pawtucketville residents. I’m one of the people who either comes down Bridge St and takes a left or goes down Christian St. to 110 to go over the Hunts Fall Bridge. Since they added the 2 lanes to turn from Bridge St., traffic going over the Hunts Fall is already backed up during the am and pm commute, add the cars and busses going to Cawley and that congestion that already exist gets doubled or tripled. It was not taken into consideration in the traffic review or report.

The traffic doesn’t seem in my view to be adequately addressed or mitigated and the transportation report in the council responses states the following:

In summary, the Downtown LHS site would generate no traffic impacts since the transportation infrastructure is already built to accommodate it.

In contrast, the Cawley site would create impacts on the residential neighborhood by quintupling traffic on Douglas Road and tripling traffic on Clark Road during the AM peak and more than doubling the traffic during the PM peak on these neighborhood roads. This increase in traffic will negatively affect traffic congestion and require mitigation.

The Transportation report also points out the following regarding busing

III. Transportation Equity
The City of Lowell has passed a Complete Streets Policy which identifies transportation equity in terms of providing affordable and reliable transportation options that provide equal opportunity for low income individuals, minorities, immigrants, and the disabled to access economic opportunities, social services, and educational institutions. The City’s policy applies to all City projects, including the high school project.

The neighborhoods located around the downtown have high concentrations of low income, minority, and low-English proficiency populations residing in the Acre, Lower Belvidere, Centralville, Lower Highlands, Back Central and Downtown neighborhoods. Over 17% of households in the City of Lowell do not have access to a vehicle, and depend on biking, walking and transit for transportation.

The Complete Streets program has focused on providing transportation infrastructure and services to connect these neighborhoods to the economic opportunities, social services, and educational institutions located within downtown. Regardless of age, language, ethnicity, income or ability residents from these neighborhoods have equitable access to everything the city of Lowell has to offer because they can easily walk, bike, or ride a bus to the downtown core. These efforts are evident by the existing mode share of the downtown high school as shown in Figure 8 which shows two third (63%) of high school students walk or ride LRTA home from the high school.

It should also be noted that students’ parents and relatives also need access to the high school.

The Busing cost was estimated to be $3.2 Million but that can fluctuate and may be addressed by rezoning. In theory could the rezoning work? ABSOLUTELY I have 100% Confidence that John Decouteaux knows what he is doing and can make this pretty close to cost neutral or just a slight increase if he is still with us in four years. Considering the disrespectful treatment he has received from this Superintendent and the current School Committee that is no certainty.

My concern is future school committees and future budgets. The City is once again using reserves, the state is $500,000,0000 in the red for the 2017 fiscal year ending in June and given the state of affairs in Washington there is uncertainty about grants and title one funding.

There is no State requirement for high school busing regardless of location. If budgets again get cut the School Committee serving 4 years from now will have the say on what gets cut. Those serving now or candidates like myself running this year will have little to no say in High School busing when a new or renovated high school is completed. There is no accurate way to know who will be serving then or what actual cost of busing will be.

While the actual cost between the sites are now much closer and the opportunity to build a brand new from the ground up building is very appealing and easier to support, In my view after reading all of the provided information, the traffic impact, transportation impact and cost impact to the school operational budget doesn’t change my view that fiscally Option 3 remains the best choice.