New district office taking shape

The new Region 16 district office is currently being built on Coer Road in Prospect. The office, which is the last piece of a three-part school building project, is expected to be finished in March. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
The new Region 16 district office is currently being built on Coer Road in Prospect. The office, which is the last piece of a three-part school building project, is expected to be finished in March. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

REGION 16 — The completion of a three-part school building project in Region 16 is within sight, though the final piece of the project will come in later and look different than originally planned.

A new district office for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, is the last and smallest piece of the project that included the new Prospect Elementary School and renovations to Laurel Ledge School in Beacon Falls. The new school is open and the work at Laurel Ledge is complete.

Construction of the new roughly 6,600-square-foot office is well underway.

The office is being built in Prospect on the Coer Road site where Algonquin School, which has been demolished with the exception of the annex, once stood. As of last week, the walls were up, the roof was on and masonry work was being done. The building was expected to be “weather-tight” by the end of December with work shifting to the inside of the office for the winter.

The office will have about 30 rooms, including offices, bathrooms, conference rooms and storage rooms, when it’s all said and done.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said the office is expected to be complete in March. The district, which currently leases space on New Haven Road in Prospect, will slowly move some personnel over to the new office after it opens, Yamin said. The intent, he said, is to be fully operating out of the new office by July 1.

“I think it will complete the district school system; two elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, now a district office,” Yamin said. “It will be efficient, effective, and I think we will be able to provide for our students, our parents and the community.”

While the end is in sight, schools officials have dealt with their share of setbacks with the new district office project, including changing its entire scope, to reach this point.

When voters approved bonding up to $47.5 million for the project in December 2011, the plan for the office called for demolishing the two-story wing of Algonquin and renovating the remaining part for the office. However, sticking with the original plan would have put the entire project well over budget due mostly to the extensive abatement that would be needed to renovate the remaining part of the school. A scaled-back version of the original plan was also dismissed because it would have left the district with a building that needed millions of dollars in future repairs.

This past March, the Board of Education voted to demolish the whole school and build a new office. Changing the scope of the project so drastically from what was approved at the referendum meant the board forfeited reimbursement from the state for the district office project. At the time of the vote, it was estimated that the board forfeited roughly $700,000 in reimbursement.

Contaminants in the school caused more financial woes when the time came to raze Algonquin School this fall. Additional PCBs and asbestos were found in some of the walls, behind chalkboards and on piping in the school that weren’t accounted for before the demolition started. The additional contaminants were not included in a report done by Facility Support Services, a Hamden-based environmental and safety consulting engineering firm, according to officials.

Yamin said the additional remediation work cost nearly $1.2 million, which was an unexpected expense. The new office is now estimated to cost about $3.78 million or about $1.4 million more than what was budgeted at the time of the referendum.

According to recent figures, the entire project is on pace to finish about $5,000 over the amount approved at the referendum. The new school came in at about $32.9 million or $3.7 million under budget, while the renovations at Laurel Ledge cost roughly $10.4 million, or about $2.6 million over budget.

Yamin was confident last week that when the district office is complete the entire project will come in within budget.

To help make sure the project stays within budget, officials have taken steps to neutralize contractual penalties that stem from the project running late.

The contracts with Turner Construction Company and Fletcher Thompson Architects, the firms overseeing the project, state that if their duties aren’t fulfilled by the end of this year the district has to pay penalties to the firms.

Yamin said Fletcher Thompson’s responsibilities for the project are complete. However, due to delays with the new office Turner Construction will be on the job until it’s finished.

Yamin said the district is facing about $20,000 of penalties under the contract with Turner Construction. However, he said, officials negotiated with Turner Construction to keep its general contractor on the job site for three days a week rather than five days. He said the savings from this negotiation will cancel out the penalties.