BERLIN– The design of a new Buckingham Elementary School is moving ahead following input from stakeholders.
During the past several months, a committee of educators, parents and community members worked with architects from Becker Morgan Group to develop plans for a new school to replace the aging and outgrown Berlin facility. Architects have now put together conceptual renderings of a new 104,000 square-foot school for the Main Street site.
“That committee did an incredible job,” said Joe Price, the school system’s facilities planner. “We appreciate the folks showing up to all five meetings and their fantastic input.”
Last year, a feasibility study addressed the possibilities of a new school at the 15-acre site as well as that of a replacement school. Local officials decided to pursue a replacement school, the cheaper of the two options.
“It costs more to do a renovation because we have to do it in phases,” Price said.
With the decision made to move forward with a new building, a group of 28 people, including county commissioners, school board members, Buckingham’s principal, teachers, parents and representatives of the Town of Berlin, met five times to provide input on the design of a school to replace the existing facility. Price said the group worked with architects to come up with a conceptual and site plan for a new school. Price said they started with a conceptual floorplan that was based on the comments architects had received from school staff. Group members also reviewed the layout of the site and pedestrian and vehicular access. Price said that because the site was relatively small, the only place for the new structure was in front of the existing school. The bus loop will remain on the Main Street side of the building while the car drop off will be on the West Street side of the building.
“We want to separate as much as we can buses from cars,” Price said.
Berlin Councilman Jack Orris was one of the town representatives on the committee.
“We talked through a lot of things…working with the architects and educators to see what they really need for a successful learning environment as well as basic concerns I had such as West Street and Main Street and stormwater issues were some of the paramount discussion themes,” he said.
Orris pointed out that during the committee meetings, the cost of the school was reduced from the originally projected $73 million to $69 million. Price confirmed that the new estimate was $69 million but stressed that cost projections were still preliminary. He said the reduction was the result of changes in the school’s preliminary design elements.
Commissioner Jim Bunting, another member of the committee, said that while local officials certainly wanted to replace the existing school, it was likely the project’s cost would be reduced further. He noted the current projected price included all of the items requested for the new school.
“Superintendent Taylor made the statement in front of everybody that this was just a starting point and we’d have to do like we did with Showell and work on it because we can’t build a school that costs $70 million,” he said. “We’ll look at it piece by piece.”
School construction is funded with both state and local dollars. The state can pay for half of the construction costs but does so based on a price of $400 per square foot.
“The state has determined an average cost,” said Commissioner Eric Fiori, another member of the committee.
Both he and Bunting are concerned because as of right now, the proposed school has a finished cost of close to $680 a square foot.
“With no reduction, taxpayers are going to be asked to fund the overage,” he said. “We want as much as we can get in this school but we also have to look at what it costs.”
Bunting echoed that concern.
“We know we need a school…,” Bunting said. “We’re going to do the best we can.”
Fiori also pointed out that the conceptual design had not yet been reviewed from a safety perspective. Design changes based on input from law enforcement could add even more to the project cost.
“From someone that’s designed buildings before, I know it can be expensive if we make those changes later,” he said.
With the committee’s completion of a conceptual design, that design and site plan will now go to the Worcester County Board of Education and the Worcester County Commissioners for review. After that, a schematic design will be developed. While the overall project remains on schedule, Price noted that the timeline—which calls for groundbreaking in 2026 and opening in the fall of 2028—was partly reliant on the state.
“Every step we have to take our design to the Maryland Department of General Services,” he said.
Buckingham Elementary School was built in 1978.