New London – City council has rejected the $ 39.3 million price tag for construction costs related to the renovation of Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School because of a possible spike in costs to taxpayers and threatens to continue the project on the eve of construction delay .
The council voted 5-2 against the so-called Maximum Guaranteed Price (GMP), partly on the recommendation of Finance Director David McBride and Mayor Michael Passero. The move stops the awarding of contracts by O&G Industries, the site manager, to the traders who are bidding for the project.
McBride said that while the project is technically within the $ 49.5 million construction budget, the state has so far considered too many elements of the proposed project not to be eligible for an 80% state reimbursement. As a result, McBride said more of the costs than expected would be shifted to taxpayers.
When taxpayers approved the reconstruction of the high and middle schools in 2014 for a total cost of $ 165 million, the middle school project was allocated $ 55 million. At an 80% reimbursement rate, the middle school project would cost the city $ 11 million.
McBride said while a certain percentage of school projects often include ineligible individuals, the planned middle school project is already above the $ 11 million the city expects. He predicts that while some costs will be eligible, at least $ 2.3 million of the total costs will remain ineligible for the full 80% reimbursement.
“As a result, the project does not adhere to the 80% to 20% refundable rate until a shovel hits the ground,” said McBride.
At a meeting on Monday, city councils appeared torn as to whether to move on or risk months of delays if the project had to be returned to a volatile hardware store that could result in higher costs.
Representatives from Colliers International, which is managing the project, said it had already spent months cutting costs and getting them on budget. The GMP was previously approved by the School Maintenance and Construction Committee.
Councilor Curtis Goodwin recognized the risk of cost escalation at Monday’s meeting, but said the city must manage the taxpayer protection project. He voted against.
Councilor James Burke, member of the School Maintenance and Construction Committee, and Councilor Alma Nartatez both voted to approve the cost. Both said that while there have been missteps in the past, the benefits of moving the project forward would outweigh the potential delays and the near certainty of future cost increases.
The answer to what happens to the project is unclear.
“Honestly, I’m not sure what the next steps are,” said Burke. “We did a lot of value engineering and worked hard to keep this project on budget. I stand by the fact that we have to get started as soon as possible. “
He said he was ready to move ahead with cost-cutting measures but would not be happy if cuts impacted school programming.
Mayor Michael Passero, who has expressed his frustration with the project budget and the fact that the headquarters was not part of the renovation plan, plans to meet with representatives from the Department of School Construction Grant and Examination of the State Department of Administrative Services in an attempt to work to cut costs.
However, talks about using $ 5.5 million of the funds for unforeseen expenses of the middle school to renovate the central office were halted because cost estimates were above budget.
McBride said his hope is that the state would agree to a higher rate of reimbursement for ineligible people, but said the school district could also consider dropping elements of the project that are not part of the construction – things like artificial turf for the school yard or new computers.
Councilor John Satti, chairman of the school maintenance and construction committee, said one of the reasons he voted against GMP was because he believed the layoffs on the two construction projects were taking place.
The school district has developed plans for three magnet schools: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math); International Abitur as well as visual and performing arts. The high school will partner with high school STEM and IB students to host an arts trail for middle and senior students in expanded art spaces.
Bennie Dover Middle School STEM and IB students will also have newly constructed art spaces – choir, band, and digital arts areas – as dictated by the regular middle school curriculum.
Satti said parts of the middle school would be demolished just to rebuild rooms that already exist.
“I’m tax conservative and I have a responsibility to protect the city’s wallets,” said Satti. “My problem is that on North Campus we are spending tens of millions of dollars making space for the performing arts, and we are spending millions and billions of dollars creating space that we already have space in.”
The school project in Bennie Dover was approved by the planning and zoning commission with the site plan in October. A step-by-step project is planned that will include the demolition of an older part of the school, an extension, extensive classroom renovations, the reconstruction of an inner courtyard and an expanded outdoor area.
The high school’s $ 108 million construction project is underway.