After cost overruns projected at nearly $7 million above expected put the Southington middle school renovation project in jeopardy last week, members of the committee demanded answers from architect Fletcher Thompson regarding what led to the costs.
The costs were explained Tuesday – and the answers have left members of the Middle School Building Committee angry and searching for answers.
Dan Casinelli, a principal with Fletcher Thompson, told the committee Tuesday afternoon that a miscalculation in square footage and a mistake which left required firewalls out of the calculations pushed costs up by $4.15 million on the way to increasing overrun costs from 2 percent to nearly 10 percent.
“I’m both upset and disappointed once again,” said Christopher Palmieri, member of the building committee and the Minority Leader on the Town Council. “To say that (Fletcher Thompson) didn’t know about a $1.9 million firewall that was required by code before everything.
“The code was not changed and we never heard about it. To hear it only now at this meeting, I don’t know how something that significant was not told to us ahead of time.”
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Palmieri and committee member Vern Chanski, criticized the work by Fletcher Thompson as “incomplete” and “unprofessional” and said the mistakes, along with exponential costs for PCB remediation, have caused delays and frustrations in the attempted renovation of DePaolo Middle School and Kennedy Middle School.
Aside from simply not calculating in firewall costs, Casinelli said the schematic design called for 135,000 square feet at each school, 6,000 square feet short of the actual blueprint designs. This led to a $2.25 million increase in overrun costs.
“The firm that was telling us this could definitely be done for $85 million is now telling us they missed all these items. And today we heard it will take a third year to complete,” Palmieri said. “The issues now are completely on backs of professionals; to give us this level of misinformation is completely unacceptable and unprofessional.”
It’s been a trying last three weeks for members of the building committee, who were informed that PCBs in the school had “leeched” into other materials, requiring remediation costs of at least $6 million beyond the budgeted $2.8 million.
The remediation changes also mean at least one extra year of construction to complete the project, even if students were relocated during work at each school.
To make matters worse, this is a “best case scenario.” If the federal Environmental Protection Agency decides that a sealed vapor wall also must be removed, it would lead to $14 million in costs above anticipated.
Environmentalist Jim Twitchell, of Hygenix, Inc., believes a deal will be reached, however, for the lower cost and the town is currently working with the EPA to find a solution.
But the issue remains - where will the money for the existing problems now come from?
The projected costs provided Tuesday by Fletcher Thompson revealed that even after nearly $11 million in “value engineering savings” found through the elimination of design aspects that would not compromise educational specifications or space.
The committee is now “tapped out” on what could be value engineered and to have cut so much this early in the project, committee member and Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski expressed frustration over having to make so many cuts this early in the project.
“We are value engineering big chunks,” Goralski said Tuesday. “We’ve done so much, it is getting to point where compromising potential quality of the project.”
“The unforeseen environmental concerns really are what we are dealing with and now it is a piece we are still addressing. In my mind, we’ve already adjusted with reasonable value engineering. My concern now is with the integrity of the project.”
Goralski said he’s also concerned that the committee isn’t just battling misinformation from Fletcher Thompson either, but from public officials through email as well.
Ed Pocock Jr., chairman of the building committee, said there are challenges left to face as the project remains at least $4.38 million over budget - $12.15 million if vapor walls have to be removed – and Casinelli told the committee Tuesday that there isn’t anything left that could be valued out of the project without affecting education specifications.
These specifications are required to get maximum state funding, otherwise the town could be responsible for a larger portion of the bill.
“There’s nothing left we could do with costs that wouldn’t affect the specs,” Casinelli said.
The project still needs to go out to bid and in the past, these have come in lower than the final development design costs, but if this does not provide the savings the town is looking for, Pocock and Southington Town Attorney Mark Sciota said the community could be facing the possibility of a re-referendum.
Sciota told members of the Town Council Tuesday night that it would be the most likely scenario right now and although the town has a sizeable contingency for the project, it’s not enough to make up the $4.38 million.
“The town of Southington has never done this, never had to go to re-referendum on a project,” Sciota said. “This would be the first.”
“What worries me is at significant overruns now and we haven’t even started this project yet,” Councilwoman Cheryl Lounsbury said.
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