Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 22, 2012

Bancroft facing $5 million budget gap

Special Town Meeting called to address shortfall

By Dustin Luca
Staff Writer

---- — The cost of construction at Bancroft Elementary School is expected to be $5 million off target, and it will take a Special Town Meeting vote to get the project back on track.

With 60 percent of construction bids already being awarded, the $44.7 million project is already $2.7 million over budget. With the remaining 40 percent of contracts waiting to be awarded, that number is expected to climb to around $5 million in the end, according to Tom Deso, School Building Committee chairman.

The Board of Selectmen voted Monday to hold a Special Town Meeting on Feb. 11 to address the issue, either by appropriating existing money or raising additional funds.

Bids are coming in higher than expected after appeals and court litigation against the project delayed it by a year, beginning last September, Deso said.

The committee hoped to go to bid on parts of the project midway through 2011, when there was a stagnant construction market and possibly more competition among bidders, Deso said.

While Town Meeting will vote to somehow put more money to the project, it could also require another ballot vote sometime after, according to Paul Salafia, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

But if Town Meeting rejects the request for extra money, “our options get very limited,” Salafia said.

“We’ve already spent $8.5 million on the school,” Salafia said. “My sense would be we would have to stop construction and assess all of the possibilities after that, including probably a redesign to downsize the school in some way.”

While the project is costing the town $44.7 million, $16.8 million of that is being covered by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Making significant changes to the building’s design during construction is strongly discouraged by the MSBA.

When asked how the committee would respond if voters rejected a plan to raise more money, Deso said it is “a hypothetical I’m hoping we won’t reach.”

“There’s not a whole lot we can do to change the scope of the project,” Deso said. “I really don’t want to speculate on that.”

The 60 percent of the project already contracted includes the most important aspects of the building, including the steel frame, interior electrical and plumbing systems, heating and cooling systems and more, according to Deso.

The remaining parts of the project not yet contracted include the building’s exterior masonry and “the inside finishes, the painting, the tiles, computer equipment and, of course, the demolition of the existing building,” Deso said.

With or without the $5 million gap closed, the school is still slated to be open to students in the fall of 2014, according to Salafia.

Unless the town has an issue raising money to close the budget gap, there shouldn’t be any delays in construction.

“We’re on time right now. The issue is not a delay,” Salafia said. “The issue is just a year’s delay. A year later, the economy got a little bit better and the bids, had we bid this a year ago, would have been right on the money.”

Staff Reporter Jonathan Phelps contributed to this report.