REGION 16 — The two major components of Region 16’s three-part school building project are progressing at different paces.
In December 2011, voters in Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved bonding $47.5 million for the project. The project entails a new pre-kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school in Prospect, renovations and additions to Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls and a new district office.
The School Building Committee is just about ready to request bids to construct the new elementary school in Prospect. The “last piece of the puzzle,” as Superintendent of Schools Tim James called it, is a letter from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection signing off on the project.
The district expects to receive the letter any day now, James said. Once the letter is received, the plans will go to the state for a final review, a process expected to take just days, then the committee can go out to bid.
School officials are hoping to send the new school and the Laurel Ledge projects out to bid together. By bidding both projects together, officials believe the bid will be more attractive to larger companies and ultimately result in more cost effective proposals.
Whether the two are bid together remains to be seen as the Laurel Ledge project has lagged behind the new school project. The delay stems from the local review process of the project.
Due to the case load at the state Bureau of School Facilities, state officials requested a local review of the plans for both projects be done rather than having state consultants perform the reviews.
The purpose of the local review process is to examine the architectural, electrical, plumbing, engineering drawings to assure they meet all local and state codes and regulations within the scope of the project, James explained.
The towns of Prospect and Beacon Falls each hired someone to do the reviews. State law requires the towns hire someone for the reviews, but the funds are paid from the school project.
The town of Beacon Falls hired consultant Bruce Spiewak earlier this year to do the local review for the Laurel Ledge project.
Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith said Spiewak was the only person who responded for the job who met all the qualifications and had all the insurances the town required.
The building committee allocated $30,000 for the review, based on Spiewak’s estimate James said. The expectation, he said, was the review would be finished by April.
The review has yet to be complete and based on another estimate from Spiewak it’s going to take an additional $24,000 to finish.
Board of Education members have expressed frustrations with the review, including how long it’s taking and the cost compared to the local review for the new school in Prospect.
The local review for the new school was done by Henry Miga for about $3,200, James said. It took about three weeks to complete, according to James.
The review of the Laurel Ledge project is more complex, since it deals with an existing school compared to building a new school from scratch. However, at the board’s June 26 meeting member Robert Hiscox, who is also on the building committee, voiced concerns that the review is dragging on too long and costing too much.
A meeting was called July 3 by Smith to address the mounting concerns. Architects from Fletcher Thompson, who are working on the building project, Spiewak, school officials and Smith were present at the meeting.
James told the school board last week the fundamental difference between Spiewak and the architects at Fletcher Thompson is that Spiewak believes the review should entail all of Laurel Ledge. The architectural firm believes that the local review process should include only those areas that are affected by the project design, James said.
The core of the Laurel Ledge project is the addition of corridors to connect the buildings at the campus-style school. The project also includes renovations to bathrooms and adding a science room.
After conferring with a consultant with the Bureau of School Facilities, James told the board state statute says the state Board of Education does not require code compliance improvements to the existing part of the building not affected by the project.
Smith described it as a case where both sides — the architects and Spiewak — were right and wrong. He said in some cases Fletcher Thompson provided incorrect drawings.
James told the board the state consultant he talked with “was distressed at the approach being taken by Mr. Spiewak” and offered to do have his schedule arranged to do the review himself.
A couple days after the board meeting, James said the consultant advised him that if the review was completed by the state the district will not be eligible for reimbursement on the $30,000 already spent.
So, James said, the consultant agreed to meet with the architects from Fletcher Thompson and Spiewak to act as a mediator. The meeting is expected to take place late this month or in early August. James said the meeting is to get the review back on track along with defining what needs to be reviewed and setting a timeline for it to be finished.
“We’re trying to put all politics aside and bad feelings,” James said.
Smith said he’s hoping the issues can be resolved so the project moves forward.
“I’d like to bring closure to it and get the project out to bid,” Smith said.
The results of this meeting will play a role in whether the two projects are bid together.
Stanley Pilat, chairman of the building committee, said last week the goal is still to send both projects out in the same bid.
“But, we don’t want the Laurel Ledge part of the project to hold up getting timely bids,” he said.
Pilat told the school board that after looking over the whole process he believes everyone acted in “good faith.”
“I think all the important strategic people have been acting in good faith and looking over each other’s shoulders,” he said.
Originally, officials were aiming to go out to bid on the projects at the end of May. James said the delay for the new school project had more to with the bureaucracy of waiting for all the necessary state approvals.
“It’s not anybody’s dragging their heels. It just takes time to go desk to desk with the number of signatures that have to be on the permits,” James said.
Officials are hopeful that ground can be broke on the new school in early September. Current projections put completion of the new school in February or March of 2015. The decision on whether to move students into the school at that time hasn’t been made yet. But, school board Chair Priscilla Cretella said she plans to ask the board to vote to open the school in the fall of 2015.
James said he’s still targeting completion of the Laurel Ledge project for the end of next summer.
The third and final part of the project is the new district office. The plan is to demolish
Algonquin School in Prospect once the new school opens. Where the new office will be built or whether it moves into Community School in Prospect has yet to be decided.
Pilat asked the board to let the committee know as soon as possible so it can plan for the district office.
Cretella said her feeling is to wait until the bids for the new school and work at Laurel Ledge come in before deciding on the district office. She feels the board has to make sure those projects are funded before seeing what’s left for the office.
James, who has overseen five school building projects in his career, said delays in projects of this magnitude happen.
“We all want it to move faster than it is because we’re anxious to have facilities that are the best they can be for our students,” he said.
He said it can be frustrating for people, particularly those who have never served on building committee before, because everyone wants the project to stay on the timeline.
“For me, at the end of the day, we want two schools — one that’s been altered and renovated that’s safe for our students, has the best possible facilities that we can and a new school that we believe is going to be a great environment to learn,” James said.