Letter: Westport school back on budget without sacrificing student programs

Posted 9/11/19

To the editor:

I would like to take the opportunity provided by Marilyn Pease’s recent letter to the editor to try to undo any confusion that may exist regarding what is presently happening with …

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Letter: Westport school back on budget without sacrificing student programs

Posted

To the editor:

I would like to take the opportunity provided by Marilyn Pease’s recent letter to the editor to try to undo any confusion that may exist regarding what is presently happening with the middle/high school project that Westport voters approved by nearly a two to one margin last year.

Having endured a bid process in April where bids came in $10 million over budget, we hired a local construction management firm (Agostini Bacon Construction) with a long history of analyzing and turning such situations around and setting them up to be completed on time and at or under budget.

Our project manager (Daedalus) and our architects (Jonathan Levi Architects) have contributed their time at no cost to the town since May as they have worked with Agostini to simplify the design of the school and to find cost savings. Our latest cost estimates now put us below our budgeted construction amount of $75 million. Our first bids for concrete work are under budget.

The cost reduction process has been extensive. It has been overseen by the Design Subcommittee of the School Building Committee, which painstakingly reviewed hundreds of suggested design changes and then brought them to the full building committee for approval. The value management changes made do not impact school programming nor cheapen the materials used. The building area has not been reduced at all.

Some of the more significant changes simplified the façade of the building, made changes to the roof and auditorium design, redesigned the HVAC system, simplified custom millwork, and redesigned the gym exterior from metal to masonry. By making these changes, among others, we have been able to bring the project back into budget, and create a more efficient and cost-effective design.

Under our agreement with the MSBA, we receive funding that pays for 49% of eligible costs and will result in net reimbursement of approximately 40% of the entire project. We are extremely fortunate to have this grant; we were one of 13 schools chosen for the grant out of more than 100 applicants the year we applied. To date, we have spent $10,531,406 on the project and received $4,707,568 in reimbursement from the MSBA.

Every town that partners with the MSBA must use the same language formula in voting at Town Meeting and at the ballot box and must follow MSBA guidelines. The payoff for that, as we know, is considerable -- a grant of $38 million that saves our taxpayers from having to borrow to pay the whole of the cost of the school on their own. (On the subject of borrowing, we should add that, with borrowing rates going down, we now believe that we will save on what we had originally projected for borrowing costs when we go for final bond funding in May, 2020.)

All of our meetings are posted, open to the public, and available for viewing on the town’s website. Please attend and ask questions if you have them. You may also find information about the project at the Westport Community School website: westportcommunityschools.org. Our next scheduled meeting is Wednesday, September 18, at 6 p.m. in the Media Center at Westport Jr/Sr High School.

We have never wavered from the central mission of this project: to provide the students, staff and entire community of Westport with a modern, safe and efficient Middle High School for generations to come. We are on track to open the school in August 2021. We look forward to a groundbreaking ceremony this fall at a date to be set soon, and we welcome all to attend this joyous event.

Dianne Baron,

Chairwoman, Westport School Building Committee

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