BEACON FALLS — The Region 16 Board of Education has backed a plan to demolish Algonquin School in Prospect to make way for a new district office.
The board unanimously supported the plan at a special meeting June 21 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls.
The early plans call for a 5,600-sqaure-foot office on the property. The annex would remain standing to be used for storage and potentially the site of an alternative education facility in the future. The plan is roughly estimated to cost about $2.84 million.
A new district office is the smallest 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, Beacon Falls and Prospect voters approved bonding roughly $47.5 million for the entire 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 in charge delved deeper into the project the estimated cost for the new district office rose 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 Algonquin.
In late May, Building Committee Chair Stanley Pilat advised the board about the escalating costs associated with renovating Algonquin. He sought and received the board’s approval to go in a new direction with the plan. Earlier this month, Pilat returned before the board to tell them the committee was leaning towards demolishing Algonquin and building a new office.
At the time, the board expressed concerns over the rising costs associated with renovating Algonquin. Last week’s meeting was called to not only discuss how to move ahead with the new office, but to find out why the cost to renovate Algonquin grew so much since the referendum.
“We do need to understand what is wrong,” board Chair Priscilla Cretella said as the meeting got underway.
Representatives from Turner Construction, a construction management firm, and Fletcher Thompson, an architectural firm, which are working on the project, were present last week to answer the board’s questions.
Lynn Temple, a senior estimator with Turner Construction, said it’s important to understand the increase in estimated costs was due to a change in the scope of the project.
“These issues with cost are not about changes in costs in units it’s about scope of the job,” Temple told the board.
Temple said the estimate used for the referendum was based on raw information given to consultants by former Superintendent of Schools James Agostine. He explained Agostine envisioned a very basic renovation of the school that would leave the heating and cooling system, floors, and windows.
Temple said consultants took the raw information and put together a cost estimate based on verbal discussions with Agostine.
As the project progressed, it became clear that more work would need to be done to renovate the school. A new heating and cooling system would require an upgrade to the electrical system of the school. The work would include disturbing the roof, which would mean more costs for abatement.
The office plan estimated at $3.26 million included the new heating and cooling system.
“The reality was that was never in the scope to begin with,” Temple said.
With the costs mounting, the option of building a new district office emerged as a more cost effective one. This approach is not a novel one to the project.
Well before the project went to referendum, multiple options were vetted such as building the office on the new school site or using Community School, which is to be sold once the new school opens, as the new office.
Ultimately, the board chose to renovate Algonquin after being told by Agostine there was a deed on the property that restricted its use to educational or recreational activities. Interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James informed the board last week that in fact the deed restriction has expired.
James said the deed expired 20 years from the date it was signed. The deed was signed in 1985, he said, meaning the restriction expired seven years ago.
“I’m not happy right now,” said Donna Cullen, vice chair of the board, after learning the deed had expired.
Cullen said the whole scope of the job would have changed from day one had the board known about the expiration of the deed.
No one had an answer as to why the board wasn’t notified earlier the deed restriction had expired.
James, who became interim superintendent after the referendum, said the expiration information was clearly written on the first page of the deed.
With the deed restriction expired, the decision came down to two choices — tear down Algonquin and build a new office on the site or build the office on the new school site and get rid of the Algonquin property.
After much debate on the issue the board decided to move forward with the plan to demolish Algonquin. The early estimated cost of the new district office plan, $2.84 million, is about $400,000, about 1 percent of the entire cost of the project, over the projected figure for the office at referendum. There’s a possibility the new office can be built using Algonquin’s foundation. If a new foundation is needed, it would add $50,000 to $100,000 to the cost, according to Temple.
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. The new school and Laurel Ledge renovations plans are progressing fine, officials have said.