Middle school renovation headaches – PCB cleanup could cost between $6 to $14 million

The Middle School Building Committee was hit with bad news on two fronts during a meeting Tuesday, as high cost estimates for PCB abatement and unexpected cost overruns on the rest of the project left them struggling to determine a way to stay within the $85 million allotted for the renovation of Kennedy andDePaoloMiddle Schools.

The committee has been waiting for weeks for cost estimates on remediating the Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) discovered in the two schools. Representatives of the architectural firm Fletcher-Thompson, Newfield Construction, and Hygenix, Inc, the company working with the town on these environmental issues, said the cost of PCB abatement could be either $6.4 million or $14.2 million. Both of these estimates take into account the $2.8 million the town already included in the project to deal with potential environmental problems.

The reason for the large range in potential costs is the question of whether or not the town will be required to deal with PCBs in the “wall vapor barrier,” an area between the walls at the schools. Thomas DiMauro of Newfield Construction described the $14 million estimate as the “worst case scenario.”

James Twitchell, of Hygenix, said he had been communicating with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the possibility of leaving the wall vapor barrier alone.

“This is bound between walls,” Twitchell said. “It’s not accessible and poses no risk for exposure.”

He elaborated that it would take someone punching a hole into the wall and taking it apart before there was any risk of the PCBs within becoming exposed.  He also said it may be several months before the EPA decides whether leaving this work out would be acceptable.

In anticipation of remediation costs, a smaller sub-committee of officials had proposed a lengthy list of changes to the middle schools plan that, if adopted by the committee at large, would shave $9.7 million off the final cost of the project. This proposal comes with many changes that left committee members disappointed.

“Right now we’re hearing that the kids and classrooms will suffer,” said committee member Melissa Sheffy. “But if we have to do that to stay under $85 million, then we have to.”

However, another surprise for the officials was the news that Fletcher Thompson and Newfield now expected that the cost of the overall project would be far greater than expected. Earlierinformation from the companies suggested that the costs would only be about 2 percent over budget, but now it could be as high as 10.5 percent.

The amount over the funding is close to the $9.7 million in savings proposed in the value engineering plan. If the proposal were accepted, it would balance out the overruns and result in an $84.2 million cost for the renovations.

However, many committee members angrily noted that this was not the original purpose of the value engineering proposal, which was intended to offset the costs of PCB abatement.

“The charge we had was to use this value-engineering to deal with costs of environmental remediation,” said Town Councilor Chris Palmieri, the vice-principal at DePaolo and vice-chair of the committee. “To tell us that all this work will be going towards project overruns is completely unacceptable.”

In the absolute worst case scenario, where the value-engineering only offsets project overruns and the town is left with a $14 million bill for PCB abatement, the final cost of the project was estimated at $98.4 million. Since last fall’s referendum on the project only approved $85 million, committee members made it clear that this cost could not be accepted.

The committee also unanimously voted to freeze invoices to Fletcher Thompson until the issue was addressed further.

“Communication is the essence of these relationships and I’m disappointed,” said committee member Venard Chansky. “This is unprofessional.”

Representatives from the firms were asked to return to the committee’s next meeting with more detailed information.

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