Building committee looking to level Algonquin

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This design shows the current plans to renovate Algonquin School in Prospect into Region 16’s new district office. The cost of this plan has escalated so much so that the Building Committee in charge of the project is now looking to demolish the school and build a new office. -CONTRIBUTED

BEACON FALLS — A new Region 16 district office may yet be built on the Algonquin School property in Prospect — just without using the school.

“As it is right now, we’re looking at demolishing the Algonquin building and possibly utilizing some of the concrete slab,” Building Committee Chair Stanley Pilat told the Board of Education at its June 6 meeting.

A new district office is one portion of a three-part building project that includes building a new elementary school at 75 New Haven Road in Prospect and renovations to Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls. In December, voters approved bonding roughly $47.5 million for the project at a referendum.

The plan, when it went to referendum, for the new office called for demolishing the two-story wing of Algonquin and renovating the remaining part of the school for the office. It was estimated to cost nearly $2.4 million prior to the vote. As the building committee has delved deeper into the project the estimated cost for the project has risen to about $3.26 million due in part to higher than anticipated expenses for asbestos abatement, along with needed upgrades to the heating and cooling and electrical systems at the school.

The $47.5 million approved for the project can be used any way between each of the three parts of the project. However, increasing costs to the district office part of the project would take away from the budgets for the new school and Laurel Ledge renovations.

Long-term costs, such as replacing the roof at Algonquin, were also a concern about the district office project as presented at the referendum.

In late May, Pilat came before the board seeking approval to pursue alternative plans for the district office, which was granted. The other two, larger parts of the project are progressing fine, he told the board last month.

Last week, Pilat told the board the committee is now focusing on a plan to demolish Algonquin School and build a new office on the site, possibly using a portion of the school’s foundation, in order to bring the costs back down to the original estimates. The committee is currently seeking solid numbers for this plan, he said.

Pilat said the committee is still working within the Algonquin property and felt the new plan represents a better one that improves the property.

“I see it as a change, but it’s an improved change,” Pilat said.

The alternative plan would make the office roughly 7,000 square feet, compared to a proposed office of between 8,000 to 10,000 square feet that was presented at the referendum.

School board Chair Priscilla Cretella expressed frustration over the course the district office project is taking.

“You can’t expect me to be very happy about hearing we’re going to have less for the same amount of money,” Cretella said.

Cretella said the original option on the table was to demolish Algonquin and build a new school. However, she said, the board was told by “experts” that renovating Algonquin was the best way to go and given figures to do so, which the board voted on and took to the public.

Turner Construction, a construction management firm, and Fletcher Thompson, an architectural firm, were working with the board on the project prior to the vote and are still working on the project.

“It’s not like all of a sudden a new idea has come forth,” Cretella said.

Concerns were also expressed by officials over fluctuating estimates given to the Building Committee by Turner Construction and a lack of confidence in the numbers being given.

In a subsequent interview, Cretella said the board has requested a meeting with Turner Construction.

“The board needs to understand what’s going on,” Cretella said.

The board will also meet with the building committee in order to discuss the project, attendance issues of some members, and potentially tighten up the committee membership. According to building committee minutes, the committee is comprised of 14 members. The issue of members being absent has come up often over recent school board meetings.

Ultimately, Cretella said she is not opposed to the alternative plan of demolishing Algonquin and building a new district office on the property, if it’s cost effective. The meetings are so the board can fully understand how the project is progressing, she said.

“We have to know exactly where we stand,” Cretella said.