Design must stabilize glacial till for Fisher Hill school expansion in Orange

  • Glacial till was discovered where there was expected to be ledge and engineers will have to devise a way to stabilize it while building an access road to Fisher Hill Elementary School that will serve as a second entry and exit route. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/24/2021 2:45:41 PM
Modified: 2/24/2021 2:46:15 PM

ORANGE — The Fisher Hill Elementary School project’s $45.7 million construction cost is expected to remain under budget after engineers devise a way to stabilize the glacial till so it doesn’t slide into the planned new school access road.

Martin Goulet of Hill International Inc., the company managing the project on behalf of the town, said an unforeseen issue arose when crew members cut into a hill. Glacial till was discovered where there was expected to be ledge. This means Raymond Design Associates, the architecture firm handling the project, must design the access road in a way that does not allow the till to slide off over time.

“It’s the nature of working in the ground — you can’t know for sure what’s in there until you start digging,” Goulet explained. “It’s something that comes up in construction all the time.”

Goulet said there were no issues when the landscape was probed to detect potential hiccups, but there is no way of determining the absence of a ledge until digging begins.

The plan is to construct a three-story, roughly 50,000-square-foot addition onto Fisher Hill Elementary School, demolish Dexter Park Innovation School and move all students into the expanded and renovated building in time to start their academic year there in September 2023. The new school access road will be a driveway that serves as a second means of access to Fisher Hill.

Bruce Scherer, chair of the Orange School Building Committee, said he has done enough construction on his farm over the years to know “that when you put a shovel in the ground, you never know what you’re going to find.” He said this is not a setback for the project, even though rock ledge blasting to create room for the new access road will be postponed at least a couple of weeks.

“I don’t really care how the sausage is made. I just want it come out right,” he said. “There are millions of details and you just have to get through each one of them one at a time. Would I rather this not become an issue? Of course.”

Scherer said he has complete confidence in the engineers, which he said are “a very cautious bunch.”

“They’re on it,” he said.

Voters at Annual Town Meeting last June opted 300-16 in favor of a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion for the project and a week later voted more than 2-to-1 to ratify that decision at the polls. The work has been projected to cost a total of roughly $57 million, with approximately $45.7 million in construction costs. Orange is expected to contribute $23 million, to be raised through the debt exclusion.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), a quasi-independent government authority that Scherer said gets its money through sales tax, will cover 80 percent of the project’s eligible costs. In 2006, the MSBA designated Dexter Park, built in 1951, a “Category 4” school, its lowest possible rating. Voters approved funding a feasibility study in 2018 to examine the Dexter Park issue and determine repair or replacement options.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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