REGION 16 — Officials are optimistic that a contract addendum can bring closure to a drawn-out review process for the planned renovations to Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls.
“We’re on a path to closure,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James said.
The Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved a motion Jan. 22 to appropriate an additional $13,000 to pay for the review of the plans as the “final installment for a satisfactory and complete local review” that will lead to a certificate of occupancy “on or about” Feb. 21.
The renovations at Laurel Ledge are part of a three-pronged school building project that includes a new elementary school in Prospect and a new district office. The crux of the work at Laurel Ledge will be constructing corridors to connect each of the buildings at the campus-style school. The work also includes renovating two bathrooms and construction of a new science room.
Due to the case load at the state Bureau of School Facilities, state officials requested early last year local reviews be done of the designs for the new school and work at Laurel Ledge.
The towns of Prospect and Beacon Falls each hired someone last March to do the respective reviews. State law requires a town, rather than a school board, execute the contract for a local review. But the money for the reviews comes from a school project.
The town of Beacon Falls required the consultant have professional liability insurance and hired Bruce Spiewak, who was the only bidder to meet the qualifications.
As the months passed last year, school officials began to express concerns with the time and money being spent on the review of the Laurel Ledge designs. Particularly when compared to the review of the plans for the new elementary school, which cost roughly, $3,200 and was completed in a matter of weeks.
Originally, $30,000 was allocated for the review of the Laurel Ledge plans. An additional $10,000 was appropriated last fall and the contract addendum caps the cost at $53,000.
The prolonged delay for the review was fostered by a disagreement over exactly what was to be reviewed by Spiewak. School officials and architects working on the project contended the review was only applicable to work being done within the scope of the renovations. Spiewak was reviewing code compliance for the entire school. Eventually, the two sides hit a stalemate.
As it turns out, Spiewak is within his rights to review code compliance for the entire school under the terms of the contract.
Beacon Falls First Selectman Chris Bielik said the language in the contract is very broad and allows Spiewak to review the existing structure to see what needs to be done to bring it up the code.
Bielik said he has reviewed the contract with legal counsel and everything Spiewak has done so far is in accordance with the agreement.
James said once school officials receive the review they’ll go over it to see if there are any safety issues outside the scope of the project that need to be addressed and determine how to fix them. Any improvements outside of the renovations will not be paid for with funds designated for the building project, James said.
Bielik said he’s signed the contract addendum and sent it to Spiewak for him to look it over with his attorney. As of Monday Bielik said he hadn’t received a signed copy back from Spiewak, who was out of the office this week.
“My expectation is his attorney review shouldn’t be a detriment to his retuning the signed addendum to us,” Bielik said.
While speaking to the school board last week, Bielik said the Feb. 21 completion date on the addendum is a hard target.
“We think that we developed a way forward,” he told the board.
Work on Laurel Ledge can’t begin until the review is done. James, who thanked Bielik for his “hard work and diligence” in dealing with the matter, said if the review is finished by the end of February the renovations are expected to begin when school lets out in June.