High bids send Little Compton scrambling for school savings


LITTLE COMPTON — School officials here are immersed in a storm of school bidding confusion that could contribute to delays in the troubled project.

The bidding whirlwind relates to the Wilbur & McMahon school renovation project itself, and — as has become apparent over the last month — to what school building committee officials, in their minutes for August 30, are calling "the temporary classroom project."

That project alone has achieved a separate status. It has become the subject of bids for site work, electrical work, and fire alarms for the modular classroom buildings that will house students during the renovation.

The Aug. 30 minutes also indicate that costs for site and electrical work, and other costs associated with "the temporary classroom project," lie outside, and arose after, the vote last spring that established the $11.3 million dollar cost for the renovation itself.

The four renovation bids

With all four bids for renovation of Wilbur & McMahon School exceeding budgeted funds by between $600,000 and $2.6 million, school officials returned this last week to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for guidance about where  "adjustments" might be made in the renovation plans to bring the project back under the budget of $9,659 925.

They got some RIDE recommendations, said Tom Allder, chairman of the School Building Committee on Friday afternoon, and will be presenting them at a meeting of school officials this coming Wednesday, Sept. 26, which will then forward them to the four renovation bidders this coming Friday, Sept. 28.

After that is done, said Mr. Allder, the four bidding contractors will each be asked to prepare a "bid addendum," in effect a rebid of the project based on the RIDE recommended changes.

Those rebids will be opened on Tuesday, Oct. 9, Mr. Allder said Friday.

Officials have been calling for what they hope to see as the "best and final offer" from the bidders.

"The long and short of it is, we've got to find at least $600,000 in cuts to make," Mr. Allder said in an interview last week. "The only way we're going to get there is eliminate scope of work."

How and where to do that, in consultation with RIDE, and the health and safety parameters of the project, would appear to be the problem.

"We're looking at developing a value engineering list to get the project down," Mr. Allder said. "It's a slick way of saying cut and slash."

Before meeting with RIDE officials, Mr. Allder had said last week that school and RIDE officials would be "looking at those things that don't relate to health and safety." For example, he said, "retooling some of the window sashes" — not something, he said, that would save $600,000. He said there might be other examples.

School and RIDE officials met this last Tuesday morning. Before the meeting, School Committee Chairman Donald Gomez had said RIDE officials were reluctant to cut any environmental or safety-related features of the project.

Mr. Gomez said, "my opinion is, I don't really want to reduce anything. I'd like to find the money in the system somewhere."

That was before the recent RIDE recommendations, to be disclosed this next Wednesday, Sept. 26, and before the rebidding, of course, to be sought subsequent.

The scope of the renovation project over the last seven years, and especially during the last year or so, had been trimmed to the health and safety core, prior to the recent flurry of bidding and discussions with RIDE.

Legislative language earlier last winter, authorizing the issuance of $11.3 million in bonds, stated that the rationale for the project was “health, safety and fire code-related,” and the work was described as “emergency repairs, alterations, renovations, improvements, landscaping and equipping and furnishing.”

In their recommendations regarding the project, RIDE staff last November said the project aimed to address health hazards, emergency repairs, code compliance, and “other immediate health and life safety issues.”

Last January, Mr. Allder said in a letter to the editor of this paper that the project was limited in its focus "to correcting those deficiencies directly related to the health and safety of our students and community," and that "prior plans to expand the scope of renovation have been abandoned."

After proposed scope-of-work cuts in the project are identified, the cuts will be presented to the contractors for their bid revisions. "We're looking to have the contractor under contract by the end of October," Mr. Allder said.

Bids for modular site and electrical work

Roughly 600-800 feet to the west of the Wilbur & McMahon School building is the so-called Peckham Lot, the site where two 70-foot temporary modular classrooms buildings are set to be located.

Officials have outlined substantial site and electrical work that needs to be done to prepare the location for the placement of the buildings.

A request for bids had been advertised. On Monday, Sept. 10, six potential bidders attended a mandatory pre-bid conference. The bids were due to be opened four days later, on Friday, Sept. 14 at 3:30.

But the site work to be done was so considerable that, at the request of the bidders, Mr. Allder said, officials present extended the deadline for opening the site work bids, to this last Friday, Sept. 21, at 3:30 in Town Hall.

Costs are one concern. Mr. Allder had previously estimated site work might cost "upwards of $100,000, at a minimum."  Higher guesses, have been kicked around.

Both the anticipated costs for site work, and the timeline, will be better known after bid opening Friday, Sept. 21, Mr. Allder said earlier last week.

Meanwhile, electrical work for the modulars was considerable enough in cost and scope to likewise warrant being advertised for bid. The work includes a transformer pad and bollards, service to the  two temporary buildings, some below grade conduit, and electrical service from a septic tank to a building.

Only one electrical contractor showed up last Monday for a mandatory pre-bid conference, said Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley. The amount of the bid and timeline for the electrical work was likewise not be known until the electrical work bid opening, also set for Friday, Sept. 21, at 3:30 in Town Hall.

Fire alarms for the modular buildings will also be the subject of a bid. Mr. Allder said that ModSpace, the company under a $630,000 contract to provide the two modular units to the town, has agreed to install the fire alarms in the two buildings, at a cost yet to be determined. The company, he said, will bid that work "as an add-on" to the modular contract.


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