The middle school renovation project remains $4.71 million over budget and has been sent to the council for consideration that it go back to referendum – but there is a silver lining behind months of ongoing challenges.
The Middle School Building Committee on Tuesday approved a new budget of $89.71 million for construction of DePaolo Middle School and Kennedy Middle School, but cost savings and enhanced reimbursements through value engineering paired with savings found in reducing the time table for PCB remediation will actually mean a reduced cost for Southington’s taxpayers.
“It’s unfortunate to know that we are going to have to go back to referendum on this, but to realize savings for our residents at the end of the day, it’s huge,” said Christopher Palmieri, committee member and Minority Leader on the Southington Town Council. “I think it’s a real win for the town of Southington.”
The final cost structure came as a relief for members of the committee, who have worked to find ways to combat growing environmental remediation and associated project overrun costs.
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It could also come as a relief to the taxpayers in Southington who, if the project is sent to re-referendum and approved, would see the town’s share of the project actually reduced by $946,000 and as much as $1.84 million.
The Southington Town Council and Board of Finance will need to approve the final budget before it goes back out to referendum – the first re-referendum in Southington history – and is dependent on whether the town is able to get approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency on a plan that would leave vapor walls in place.
“I will have the responsibility of informing the council that should the EPA reject the proposal, we will have to go back to the drawing board,” Sciota said.
Environmentalist Jim Twitchell, of Hygenix, Inc., has been working closely with the EPA however and has informed the committee that he anticipates the proposed plan to leave vapor walls in place will be approved. The formal process often takes as long as six months for approval, he said.
If rejected, full remediation of PCBs would cost $17 million, almost $8 million more than leaving the vapor walls in place and adding to a special seal to assure that the PCBs are never exposed.
Palmieri said Tuesday that further analysis has allowed the town to find ways to assign additional project managers, reducing the project length from three years back to two years, while also reducing costs in the amount of about $100,000.
Furthermore, value engineering has changed the scope of the project and reduced square footage to a point where Southington will now be reimbursed by the state at 56.07 percent, a 3.55 percent increase over the previous estimated reimbursement rate.
Thomas DiMauro, construction manager and project executive for Newfield Construction of Hartford, said the change in plan will lead to students dealing with “stripped rooms” for a year, but would also serve to expedite the project and would not create any safety hazards.
“It’s not uncommon to have this kind of construction,” DiMauro said. “In fact, the students often think it’s cool to see the rooms stripped for construction.”
Palmieri said the town is also seeing added benefits including an additional 2- or 3-percent reimbursement as a result of the town’s involvement in Project Choice, a program that brings students from Hartford to Southington.
The program, which was integrated by School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. several years ago, provided an unexpected benefit, Palmieri said, as students in the program will be entering middle school when renovations are complete. This allows for the additional reimbursements, he said.
Committee member and Board of Education Brian Goralski said after months of frustration, he’s excited to see some good come from the project.
“I’m never happy that we have to go ask for more money, but at the end of the day can say we did our due diligence,” Goralski said. “We often don’t get back the tax dollars that Southington sends to Hartford but now, because of hard work of group, the reimbursement is back up.”
“The leadership of our school administration brought in students for the purpose of providing a strong education to city residents and now that’s resulting in funds coming back to the community.”
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