Start of a renovation

Budget overrun leaves board with decisions to make

A worker transports a pallet of bricks through the courtyard at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls on July 21, the first day of construction on the renovation and addition project. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

A worker transports a pallet of bricks through the courtyard at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls on July 21, the first day of construction on the renovation and addition project. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Construction began this week at Laurel Ledge Elementary School, but some aspects of the project remain to be decided after the bids for the work came in higher than the planned budget.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved bids for the base scope of the project at its July 16 meeting. The total base bids came in at roughly $9.82 million, or about $1.93 million more than a budget estimate for the project from last year, according to figures presented to the board.

The overrun is expected to be offset by projected savings in the new Prospect Elementary School project, but not entirely.

According to figures presented, the new school project is roughly $1.74 million under budget through June 30. The two projects combined are about $200,000, or roughly 0.5 percent, over budget.

“The grand picture, that’s where we are,” Mike DiNallo of Turner Construction, which is managing the project, told the board.

The renovations and additions at Laurel Ledge, the new school and a new district office make up the three-part building project voters approved at a referendum in December 2011. Voters granted their approval to spend up to $46.7 million for the project.

The crux of the work at Laurel Ledge is building corridors to connect the buildings at the campus-style school. The project also includes two new bathrooms, a new music and renovations to the school.

Officials pointed to a delay in going out to bid caused by a local review of the plans for Laurel Ledge as the catalyst for the budget overrun. The review of the plans took months longer to complete than anticipated as architects with the project and school officials conflicted with the demands of the consultant, who was hired by the town of Beacon Falls, working on the review.

The plan was to bid the new school and Laurel Ledge projects together in an effort achieve economies of scale. However, due to the delay with the Laurel Ledge local review, the projects went out bid separately.

Board member Robert Hiscox, who is also on the school building committee, said the delay cost the district a significant amount of money. However, he felt there is enough money to do all three projects, but not to the extent officials may like.

“I do believe there is money available within the referendum appropriated amount to successfully complete all three projects,” Hiscox said.

Exactly what won’t be done under the project was a sticking point among the board.

The base bids for the Laurel Ledge project didn’t include additional alternates sought for the school. The largest alternatives are replacing the roofs at Laurel Ledge and putting in air conditioning in the gymnasium. The bid for the roof work is $612,000. The cost for the air conditioning in the gym came in at $208,000.

Board member Wendy Oliveira and Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella expressed concerns about air conditioning for the gym not being included in the project. Both said they were led to believe it was part of the original plan, only to find out later that it wasn’t. Their issue is the entire school will be air conditioned, except the gym where a lot of activities occur.

Oliveira said it never made sense that air conditioning for the gym wasn’t included from the beginning. She didn’t want to move forward without including the air conditioning.

DiNallo said a decision on the air conditioning for the gym doesn’t have to be made for another six months or so. He added options to reduce the $208,000 price tag are being examined.

Replacing the roof is a high priority for the building committee, according to officials.
Hiscox said the board can’t come back to taxpayers after the project is finished and ask for money to replace the roof.

DiNallo said officials want to begin work on the roof immediately to get it done before school starts and renovations to the buildings at the school begin. He suggested the board move funds from the contingency budget for the new school project to pay for the roof. He said there is a little more than $1.5 million in the new school project’s contingency budget, and he’s comfortable the money could be reallocated.

“All of the big risk items on Prospect Elementary School are behind us,” he said.

The board ultimately voted to use the contingency money to pay for the roof.

Moving forward, renovating the kitchen at Laurel Ledge may be scaled back or sacrificed as the board works to manage the cost overrun.

The cost to renovate the kitchen, which was included in the base bid, is $403,000. Before the board voted to use contingency money for the roof at Laurel Ledge, DiNallo recommended cutting the kitchen work to help pay for the roof. He said it was the easiest part of the project to remove without using contingency funds.

No final decision on the kitchen work was made at the meeting.

It is likely the plans for the new district office will be scaled back as well. The plan is to demolish Algonquin School in Prospect and build a new office on the site. The board has not gone out to bid on the new district office yet and has no hard costs. The plans for the office will depend heavily on the cost to demolish and abate the building. The budget for the new office at the time of the referendum was about $2.37 million.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said officials were disappointed with the bids for the Laurel Ledge project, but have to move forward.

“We’ve got to move ahead with what we have and do some prioritizing and value engineering,” James said.

Work gets underway

BEACON FALLS — The sights and sounds of construction can now be seen and heard at Laurel Ledge Elementary School.

The renovation project began July 21 at the school on Highland Avenue.

Crews are hoping to get phase one of the project complete before the first school bell rings Sept. 2, said Mike Diehl of Turner Construction, who is the superintendent for the Laurel Ledge project.

Crews are currently working on a new basketball court behind the playground for students to use for recess, Diehl said. Phase one also includes excavating and laying the foundation for the new corridors that will connect the buildings at the campus-style school as well as for the new art and music classrooms and two new bathrooms.

From now until the school year starts, crews will be working double shifts from about 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Superintendent of Schools Tim James said. He said heavy construction won’t be done at the site after about 5 p.m. each day. The double shifts will end once school starts, James said, and begin again next summer.

The project is expected to be completed by the fall of 2015.