Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 7, 2013

Town: No good alternative to spending $5.7M

By Dustin Luca
Staff Writer

---- — Since the budget gap on the Bancroft Elementary School project was first announced last November, residents have offered their own solutions for how the town can solve the issue without spending more money.

Here are some of the more popular suggestions, and why town officials including School Building Committee members say they are not pursuing them.

USE CONTINGENCY MONEY

The $44 million project includes several million dollars in four different contingency accounts. As it stands, the project has over $2 million in contingency money, and the $5.7 million will add additional contingency cash. But the committee can’t use any of this to trim the costs of the project.

Contingency money is for unexpected problems, such as finding a gas tank buried in the ground that must be removed. The state says it is not meant to cover price fluctuations, said Deso.

“If we had used that to fund an estimated shortfall, it would not have been reimbursible by (the Massachusetts School Building Authority),” committee Chairman Tom Deso said. “They expect the contingency to be used only if it needs to be, and only to be used for construction items.”

The state is paying for 44 percent of the original $44 million project.

“If we come across some situations in the existing school that, despite all the testing, we find something that has to be done differently, that would be a contingency item,” Deso said. “If everybody left the site on a Friday night and came back Monday morning and something had happened, part of a wall came down, some situation, and you couldn’t determine how that happened, we’d still have to redo that. We’d have to fix it.”

There’s a chance that there will be contingency money remaining at the end of the project, Deso said, which would reduce the amount the town has to borrow.

“We’re very hopeful that a significant amount of the contingency will end up not being used, and that will reduce the cost,” he said.

TRIM $5 MILLION

FROM PROJECT

Construction projects can use a process known as “value management,” where design decisions are made to use less expensive items to save money on the project. Last year, the committee went through such a process to save around $2 million, but there is no longer any room to do so, according to Deso.

“We’ve spent months of meetings going over the value management,” Deso said. “We really think we took everything we could reasonably take.”

One item taken out under value management was the school’s playground. That will be added back to the project at a cost of about $100,000 if the extra money is approved, Deso said.

ELIMINATE GREEN ITEMS FROM PROJECT

As part of construction, the town is taking extra measures to chase Leaders in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Some possible changes to the project under value management would have an impact on the USGBC’s score when it reviews the building to certify it once completed. That’s something the committee wants to avoid, in part because being a LEED Silver school will allow the town to receive energy rebates.

“It’s going to be a significant milestone for the town,” Deso said.

While some of the measures to make the building as green as possible have also driven up construction costs, there is a return on the investment in the form of longterm energy savings, such as annual heating costs, Deso said.

CUT YOUR LOSSES,

AND DON’T BUILD

With money already borrowed and spent, this would be the most unwise course, according to Deso.

“We’re about 25 percent complete. We’ve already paid I don’t know how many millions of dollars,” said Deso, who later reported the town has spent more. “The foundation is done. The steel is up on the building. They’re starting to pour concrete (this week) on the floors. The cost of demolishing the building and putting that land back to where it was will be substantially more than what we’re asking for, with additional funding.”

Then, there’s what the town would do with the existing Bancroft Elementary School, a facility that has required hundreds of thousands of dollars in upkeep to stay open, and has had to close for a day at least once so that workers could remove snow from its roof.

“The problems with the original building won’t go away. The problems in Shawsheen (School) won’t go away,” said Rich Crowley, Plant and Facilities project manager.

Overcrowding issues across the school system would also remain if a new Bancroft school isn’t built, according to Crowley.

Other town officials agree.

“To bring the building down wouldn’t even make sense,” said Maria Maggio, acting Plant and Facilities director.