Bids exceed budget for Little Compton Wilbur McMahon School project


LITTLE COMPTON — All four companies competing for the contract to renovate Wilbur & McMahon School have submitted bids that exceed — by amounts ranging from $600,000 to $2.6 million — the amount budgeted for the work.

Bids from the four pre-qualified general contractors were opened in public in Town Hall at 2:15 p.m. last Thursday, Sept. 6, and read aloud at a meeting of the school building committee.

On the same day the renovation project bids were opened, a request for proposals (RFP) was sent out by the school department for the site work to prepare Peckham Lot west of the school for the installation of modular classrooms. Those bids are due to be opened this Friday, Sept. 14, at 3:30 in Town Hall.

Officials have spoken about the possible costs for site work with reluctance, referring to rumors and estimates that run the range from $100,000 to $250,000.

Meanwhile, mold cleaning in the old school building, now housing students until the modulars are ready, is nearly complete, with the gymnasium, storage closet, and locker room last on the list. Final bills are not yet in, said Superintendent of Schools Kathy Crowley, but the "ballpark cost for cleaning may be estimated in the range of $15,000 to $18,000."

Mold had crept into the building during the humid summer months when the building was closed. Once it became clear the building would house students this fall, a crash room-by-room cleaning program was instituted.

When school is closed during the primary election, said Superintendent Crowley, the final cleaning of the gym and contiguous spaces will be performed. "Once the cleaning is complete, we will be retesting all areas," she said,

According to Superintendent Crowley, the state department of health is monitoring the condition of the building and classrooms. To respond to questions and concerns, she said, Dr. Robert Vanderslice, from the department, was set to speak to parents and to  the school committee at its regular meeting Tuesday night at the school.

Renovation project bids

Of the four renovation project bids, the lowest was from ADS Construction, for $10,260,000. That's $600,075 over the budgeted amount of $9,659,925 that Town Council President and school building committee member Robert Mushen said is available for the project.

The other three bids were even higher:  $11.3 million by E.W. Burman, Inc., $11.9 million by Agostini Construction Co., and $12.3 million bid by H. V. Collins Company — $2.6 million over the budget.

"If we can't do the work that we've budgeted for, now what do we do?" said Mr. Mushen last Friday. "I'm very concerned over the fact we have no bidder that's within our budget, and we've got to do something."

School Committee Chairman Donald Gomez was optimistic, however, about the project going forward. "The job is still doable," he said.

Reacting to the bid-opening hours earlier Thursday, the Town Council at its regular meeting Thursday night voted to send a letter to the school building committee, asking it to seek alternatives from the bidding contractors.

"We're asking the school building committee to get a best and final offer from the bidders, to see if the contractors can recalculate or find ways to bring the bids down to be within the budget," said Councilor Frederick M. Bodington III.

"The bids were a little more than we expected, but we'll take a look at them. There may be some room for negotiation," said Mr. Gomez. The wiggle room, if any, may derive from flexibility about pricing by contractors and the availability of additional funds.

The difference between the budgeted amount of $9,659,925 million and the $11.3 million approved last spring by Little Compton voters for the renovation project, Mr. Gomez said, is normally set aside for contingencies, architects' fees, insurance, and other "soft costs." There's also, he said, $1.3 million in school reserves.

Mr. Gomez said it was his understanding that the council would not approve any additional money for the project.

Both Mr. Gomez, and Mr. Mushen, separately, expressed the view that it was unfortunate that the contractors knew before submitting their bids how much money the town had in its budget for the project.

There's plenty of time before renovation work is actually due to begin. During the bidding process, and before bids were opened, school officials had notified prospective bidders to anticipate starting work Dec. 1.

The original start date for construction was to have been Sept. 15, with an original bid-opening date set for August 29. Complications regarding the placement of temporary modular classrooms on fields west of the school have pushed those dates back, however.

It is unclear at this time when the modular classrooms will be in use by students, who are now being taught until then in the old building. The Dec. 1 start date for the renovation project was picked in order to give plenty of leeway for the modular installation and the necessary site work that precedes it.

Site work for modular classrooms

The RFP for site work described the scope of work as including, but not limit to, "site grading, driveway improvements, walkways, septic system," and referred prospective bidders to general notes, drawings, and other documents available on the town's website.

Sketches (here and here) on the website identify the features bidders are being asked to address in their bid proposals.

Two modular building in a north/south configuration are to be installed on the Peckham Lot.

Contractors are being asked to bid the following elements (partial listing): handicapped ramps; hay bales and erosion controls; a topsoil stockpile area; gravel paths; a 3,000 gallon septic tank; 24 inches of stone and gravel under each 70 foot modular unit; 20 foot wide gravel access roads with some proposed for asphalt paving; a bus delivery area; 27 parking spaces (gravel) off a paved road over Veterans Field; a pump vault for septic system; a 2" sewer line from the modular units about 600 feet long upward to the existing septic system; and signage.

Officials at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEM) have said permits have been issued for the work, and that there's no need for a wetlands permit. Erosion controls are necessary, however.

A note to prospective bidders states that "due to the condensed time frame" the successful bidder will be engaged "as quickly as possible" and must be able to start work "immediately" upon execution of the contract.

Bidders were asked to estimate the time needed to complete the work, with no timeline specified for completion. Asphalting may be considered optional.


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