By Ed Harris
The middle school renovations past for a second time at Tuesday’s referendum.
The renovations were overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2011, but the renovations were sent back to referendum after it was discovered that the removal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) would significantly drive up cost estimates.
This is the first time in town history that a project was sent back to referendum.
Southington School Supt. Dr. Joseph Erardi praised the honesty and the integrity of the middle school building committee and credited the committee with getting the renovations passed for the second time.
“They are clearly deserving of this result,” Erardi said.
The referendum passed by an almost four to one tally, with 1,377 voting for and 334 against. The 1,711 total votes represents about 6 percent of the approx. 28,000 voters in Southington.
“I’m excited,” Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski said. “Again Southington voters supported what is good for our kids.”
The middle school building committee was shocked last November, when architect Fletcher Thompson and construction manager Newfield predicted that the cost of the overall project would be far greater than the $85 million that was approved by voters at the 2011 referendum. Earlier information from the companies suggested that the costs would only be about 2 percent over budget, but officials were told that it could be as high as 10 percent.
Fletcher Thompson blamed the estimated additional costs on “schematic mistakes.” The initial plan presented for the middle schools had miscalculations involving square footage and did not include firewalls, a required public safety measure.
The committee approved a value-engineering plan for the project which would shave $9.7 million off the final cost of the project. However, it was intended to be used to balance out the anticipated costs of remediating the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in both schools.
The abatement costs are expected to be between $6 million and $14 million, depending on whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires the town to deal with the contaminated “wall vapor barriers” deep inside the walls of the buildings.
Despite the committee’s best efforts, it was determined that another $4 million would be needed to finish the project. The Town Council then began the process of scheduling a second referendum for the same project, which is unprecedented in Southington’s history.
Officials received verbal confirmation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this year that the cheaper plan for the remediation of hazardous materials will likely be approved. However, firm numbers are not yet available.
The reduced square footage of the updated plan makes the project eligible for increased state reimbursement. The state was set to reimburse the town for 52.5 percent of the previous plan, while the new plan is eligible for 56 percent reimbursement.
This change in reimbursement means that the town will likely save some tax dollars with the updated proposal. However, Town Attorney Mark Sciota has said that there is the possibility that the town could see a smaller reimbursement rate due to state finances.
The estimated savings are thought to be in the $1 million to $1.5 million range.
School officials have said the renovations would begin on June 22, barring any more snow days. The remediation work will be done at times students are not in schools, including the summers of 2013 and 2014 and some of the week-long school vacations, if necessary.
“At the end of the day I am confident that the public will be proud of what we’re doing,” Goralski said, calling the project long overdue.