Over budget Little Compton project goes to school committee

Over budget Little Compton project goes to school committee

The "old" Wilbur & McMahon School building, over 8o years old, will being to be renovated in January, if the school committee awards a contract on Oct. 30.

Renovation of the 80-year-old Wilbur & McMahon School building will begin in January if the school committee awards a contract on Oct. 30.
LITTLE COMPTON — After two months of bidding, rebidding, and review,  the school building committee last Wednesday finally sent its recommendation for a contractor — and the entire over-budget school renovation project — to the school committee to resolve.

The school committee won’t meet until Tuesday, Oct. 30. When it does, major issues will be on the table, said Tom Allder,  chairman of the school building committee.

First, there’s the matter of confirming the building committee’s recommendation of the low bid contractor for the project, ADS Construction, Inc., whose $10.1 million “best and final” offer — now considered the new budget figure for the project by school officials — is over the original budget for the project of $9.75 million. Even without other project costs included, that is close to the $11.3 million approved by voters last spring.

Then there’s the question of what to do about temporary housing for students during the renovation. Problems with site preparation on Veterans Field and the Peckham Lot for two modular units, and soaring costs, are forcing officials to revisit the idea of temporarily schooling some students in one or two local churches.

Third, the problem of finding enough money to pay project costs will have to be resolved, Mr. Allder said. When everything is totaled up, he said, there’s a $500,000 shortfall  that will have to be made up. The building committee felt so strongly about the need to address this, he said, that when it forwarded its contractor recommendation, it said the school committee should “address the shortfall before moving forward.”

Low bidder and project costs

There were initially four bidders, all over the then-estimated budget of $9.75 million for the project, with ADS bidding low at $10.26 million, later reduced to the $10.1 “best and final” figure where it currently stands.

Two of the four contractors declined to rebid, and the other that did was $627,000 higher than ADS. So ADS got the nod as low bidder. Mr. Allder now uses the ADS rebid figure of $10.1 as the real-world budget for the project.

To that $10.1 construction cost must be added ‘soft costs’ (design services, permit, legal services, insurance and more totaling an estimated $1.1 million.

Add to that contingency costs (at 6.25 percent) of $628,495, and finally $1,024,605 for temporary housing costs (including the $647,000 for the two modular units).

When the dust settles, the total project costs are $12.9 million.

The Rhode Island Department of Education and the voters have authorized only $11.3 million, and the school department has reserves of $1.1 million.

The difference between costs and available funding, said Mr. Allder, is an $500,000. “That’s how short we are.”

Where to save

On the cost side of the equation, Mr. Allder said, “the only flexibility is in the temporary housing.”

What’s best for students and teachers for this housing needs to be factored in, he said, and balanced against “how much are we going to save if we go to the churches?”

School officials and the churches are talking about which churches, if any  might be use, reducing the number of modular units from two to one, and reverting to the possible use of Veterans Field for only one modular unit.

Timing is an issue. Mr. Allder said ADS Construction sees no problem starting work in mid-winter. Construction time will still be one year. “ADS has had no issue starting the project in January. The only issue is possibly doing work in two winters.”

“The project will occur over two fiscal years,” he said, “and my hope is we can get contribution first from the school and then from the voters if necessary.”

Mr. Allder said the earlier plan was to start construction on December 3, “but we’re not going to make it.”

“For working purposes,” he said, “the new start date is January 2,” with the move from the school to the churches or modulars to be made over the holiday break.

“The school committee is willing to do whatever is necessary to get this project off the ground,” Mr. Allder said.

Amidst the uncertainties, school officials have talked about going back to the town or voters for additional funding to keep momentum going.

“We have one bite at the apple,” said School Committee Chairman Donald Gomez, and “we’re not cutting any more. Let’s get started now. We’re within a few hundred thousand.” He said he believes town officials might be receptive to additional funding of that magnitude.

Mr. Gomez said, “it’s risky, very risky, to delay any longer. We’ve done everything we can. Schedule is the most important thing. Schedule, schedule, schedule.”