REGION 16 — The smallest part of the three-phase building project in Region 16 continues to be a large thorn in the side of school officials.
A new district office is the final, and smallest, piece of the building project that includes the new Prospect Elementary School and renovations to Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls.
When the project was approved at a referendum in 2011, the plan for the new office called for demolishing the wing of Algonquin School in Prospect closest to Route 69 and renovating the remaining part of the school for the office. Officials have gone back and forth on what do to since then.
Last month it appeared the Board of Education solidified the plan after awarding a $552,150 contract to demolish and abate wing “B” of Algonquin School, the one closest to Route 69. The move signified a return to the original plan for the office.
However, the plan took another turn last week, and the board is now looking into an option for the office that would mean the district would not receive state reimbursement on this phase of the project.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin told the board at its meeting last week that continuing with the original plan will cause the entire project to go over its $46.7 million budget.
Yamin said the projected cost to renovate the remaining wing of Algonquin School would put the entire project about $875,000 over budget due mostly to the extensive abatement that would be needed.
Yamin told the board the district can continue with a striped-down version of the plan that reduces the cost by about $600,000 and would incorporate the $125,000 in contingency that is left in the new elementary school project.
“That would still leave us over, and this is a long shot, $150,000,” Yamin said.
This version doesn’t take into account the roughly $275,000 of contingency funds for the work at Laurel Ledge. But, Yamin said, officials didn’t want to factor in these funds because it’s unknown whether the money will be needed for the renovations.
However, Yamin continued, if the board went forward with the striped-down version of the plan the district would be left with a dilapidated building that would need future investments in capital projects, including the roof and a new furnace.
“The product we’re going to have at the end is a concern,” he said.
Yamin presented another option to the board — demolish the entire school, with the exception of the annex, and build a new roughly 5,500-sqaure-foot office.
The board had previously been pursuing this option. However, it was abandoned after the state said the scope of the district office project couldn’t be changed from the original plan without reapplying for reimbursement.
The region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, is expected to be reimbursed 34 percent on eligible costs for the district office phase of the project. Reapplying for state reimbursement would cause significant delays in the project, which is on a timeline. If the entire project isn’t finished by the end of December, the board will have to pay penalties to Turner Construction Company and Fletcher Thompson Architects, the firms overseeing the project, under the terms of contracts with the two firms.
Yamin recommended that the board forego state reimbursement on the district office project, which is expected to be about $700,000, and move forward with razing the school and building a new office.
Yamin said if the board doesn’t seek state reimbursement it can change the scope of the project. He said moving forward with this plan would allow the project to be finished in time and within budget.
Yamin said even if the board went ahead with the original office plan and got the $700,000 in reimbursement, it would spend more money down the road on the building.
“If we get the $700,000 back, between the roof, the furnace and everything else, we’re going to spend $2 million over 10 years. So that $700,000 is good money going after bad,” he said.
Yamin added the additional $700,000 bonded over 20 years will have a minimal impact on the school budget.
“It’s definitely worth it, I think, from the big point that we’re going to have a new building,” said board member Nazih Noujaim, who favored going forward with building a new office and not going after the reimbursement.
Noujaim said the board would eventually have to spend money on repairs to the Algonquin School building if it sticks with the original plan.
Board member Sheryl Feducia agreed.
“I can not in good faith put that kind of money into an old beat-up building,” she said.
Yamin sought for the board to make a motion last week on moving forward with the plan that would forego state reimbursement on the office project.
School board Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella argued that it was unfair to expect the board to make a decision that night, particularly without firm cost figures.
The board decided to pursue getting better cost estimates for the work as well as assurance from the state in writing that what the district is considering is OK.