School board members upset with middle school issues

By Ed Harris

Some members of the Board of Education expressed their dissatisfaction with how the planned renovations at Kennedy and DePaolo Middle Schools were hit by several costly issues at the school board meeting last week.
Representatives from Newfield Construction and Fletcher-Thompson attended the meeting to discuss the current state of the project and explain to the board why the costs of the project were creeping up.
Earlier this month the Town Council began the process of sending the project back to referendum, the first time that this has had to be done in the town’s history. However, officials have noted that this scenario will save taxpayer money in the long run.
“I fail to understand how I was sold a rendering of a building that is now missing so many of the parts,” said school board member Terri Carmody. “How could the estimate be so off?”
The discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in both Kennedy and DePaolo Middle Schools has the building committee anticipating abatement costs of either $6 million or $14 million. The major question is whether the town will be required to remove the “vapor barriers” inside the walls, which contain high concentrations of PCBs, but have little risk of being exposed to the public.
Hygenix, the environmental company helping the town deal with the contamination, has expressed confidence that the EPA will sanction the less severe option. However, it could be months before the agency makes its decision.
At the meeting last Thursday, school board officials said that they did not believe they would have the EPA’s answer in time for the referendum in March, but they were confident that the decision would be made prior to going out to bid on the project.
Another ongoing issue is the $4 million worth of cost overruns projected by Fletcher Thompson and Newfield Construction, resulting in part from mistakes in calculating the square footage to the initial proposal’s absence of required items like firewalls.
The overruns are the major reason why the PCB cleanup costs remain a threat to the project, despite the committee approving millions of dollars worth of “value-engineering” reductions to the original plan for the schools.
Angela Cahill, of the architectural firm Fletcher Thompson, explained to the school board that the original numbers were predicted before numerous studies were performed. These studies are costly and are not normally done unless the project moves forward, Cahill explained.
“The assumptions were made on limited information,” Cahill said.
School board members Patricia Johnson and Patricia Queen had questions on the PCB contamination. Johnson asked if the contamination was something that could have been anticipated and Queen said that there was no discussion with the board on how much the hazardous materials abatement could go up.
“We don’t have very much precedence,” Cahill told the board members, describing how there was no framework on the issue from the EPA. Cahill said the whole issue did not surface prior to 2009-10.
School board member Terry Lombardi questioned how firm the current price tag was now, given the changes in the past. Tom DiMauro, of project manager Newfield Construction, said that the numbers were good, given what they know now.
“We can not afford the continuous miscommunications,” Lombardi said. “The community is not confident given the history of the project.”
There is a small silver lining in sending the project back to referendum for an additional $4.7 million: Southington taxpayers will actually save a little in the long run.
The reason for the savings is that the updated proposal is eligible for more state reimbursement than the original plan. The state was prepared to reimburse 52 percent of the $85 million plan, but the proposed square footage was outside the state’s guidelines, costing the town potential funds. The new $89.7 million plan, with its reduced square footage, is eligible for 56 percent reimbursement from the state.
Reporter Rob Glidden contributed to this article.

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