Board opts to renovate AHS gym

Ashland High School's old gym won't be torn down.

The Ashland School Board chose to renovate the high school gym complex, which also houses music and drama students, during its meeting Monday night. Officials chosse the renovation option &

also known as "tre parte," which preserves some features of the old gym while making spatial improvements benefiting all the departments using the gym &

largely because they'll get more bang for their buck and retain more square-footage by remaining with the existing three-level structure of the complex.

School board members approved separating high school improvements from those of other district schools by exempting them from the standard low-bid process schools are required to follow. They elected to go with what's called a general contractor method, an attorney general-approved alternative to the requirement of accepting the lowest bidder as a contractor. The primary difference is that the cost of the contractor process is not the sole criterion in contractor selection. The district's consultants recommended this option because of the high school project's size, complexity and completion deadline.

Consultants advised that not all contractors have the same level of knowledge or experience to deal with site construction while students are in session, with asbestos removal or with the unforeseen problems associated with renovation of an old building that often occur. With the number of safety factors involved with safeguarding students on a construction site, a 14-month period to complete the work and the possibilities of change orders arising in a climate of monthly escalating construction costs, board members decided to prioritze hiring an experienced contractor even if not the least expensive alternative.

From 5 to 8 p.m. June 20, an open house is scheduled at Ashland Middle School. It will highlight the work being done at all district schools.

In other business, the school board reviewed renewing a food service management contract with Sodexho, discussing whether they should have a contract that keeps district employees working in the cafeteria versus a contract that uses Sodexho employees. Board members considered the approximate $60,000 they could save by using Sodexho employees. Board chairwoman Heidi Parker said she struggled with wanting district employees to be better paid with better benefits, but found herself wondering if that took away from other educational offerings. She said that her son reminded her that adequate food is part of being able to sufficiently learn.

Board member Mat Marr said he had a hard time with the vote because he supports both local management and local control.

"It's hard for me to send our dollars to a multinational company," he said, adding that a year ago he would have opposed renewing such a contract.

Over the last year, however, he said he has seen Sodexho's efforts to work collaboratively with the district's desire to incorporate healthier food into its meal programs.

"I no longer feel Sodexho is an inherent barrier to positive change," he said, adding that there's still much work to be done to overcome the difficulties of providing nutritious food at affordable prices and having to rely on government commodities with limited nutritional value. He voiced hope of being able to improve the industrial food model. "I vote with mixed feelings, but it's because I vote with strong hope for the future that I can vote yes."

The board passed the measure.

The board did not approve an $83.6 million budget, ultimately deciding further consideration was needed to prioritize among the district's various infrastructure, technological and staff needs.

The board approved the appointment of a local option committee with the following members: Amy Amrhein, Lynn Constantino, Chuck Keil, Keith Massie and Dan Thorndike. The committee will explore ways to replace the money provided by the soon-to-expire youth activities levy.

The board approved an evaluation of superintendent Juli Di Chiro that noted her successes of the past year.

The board also acknowledged the hard work of retiring board member Amy Amrhein, whose vast knowledge and expertise they said will be missed. Amrhein served on the board for six years, and in her final word of wisdom to the board, she urged them of the need to "plan for the worst while hoping for the best."

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