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Why Is the North Reading School Building Project Over Budget?

At a public information session Tuesday, the SSBC explained why the school building project needs additional funds.

Why Is the North Reading School Building Project Over Budget?

Members of the North Reading School Committee and Secondary Schools Building Committee (SSBC) as well as representatives from PMA Consultants (project manager), Gilbane Building Company (construction manager) and Dore and Whittier (architect) were present Tuesday night at North Reading High School to explain to residents why the school building project needs additional funding.

When first presented, the original project budget of $107.7 million was split into two parts: $86.5 million was the construction cost estimate and $21.2 million was for professional services, contingencies, furniture, fixtures and technology. According to Selectmen Chairman Sean Delaney, the $86.5 million construction cost estimate was wrong. 

The original estimate

Chris Carroll from PMA Consultants explained that they developed the early estimates based on a schematic design. They took the early schematic drawings, looked at the programming and market conditions and developed both the total and cost per square foot estimate. 

PMA estimated the original $87.5 million construction cost estimate and the architect estimated $91.5 million, according to Carroll.

When estimating the cost per square foot, PMA initially estimated $326 per square foot and the architect estimated $342 per square foot. PMA then looked at six other projects they were working on and "pushed to have" a $322 per square foot budget, which was on the higher end compared to their other projects, he said.

"We felt it was a reasonable target," Carroll explained.

PMA also considered how much the MSBA would reimburse, given that they only reimburse for certain elements of the project.

Taking all of these factors into account, PMA put forth a budget value of $86.4 million for the construction costs, Carroll said.

Project challenges

There were significant "project challenges" Carroll explained at the meeting. Market conditions ramped up more than projected in the estimates and there are also site challenges due to the hill, wetlands and soil issues, he said.

"What we are running up against is that our estimate that was developed back in the schematic phase undervalued the project," he said.

The project is coming in higher than the forecast, Carroll explained.

Value engineering

Value engineering is required by the MSBA to maintain the budget and removes items from the budget. During Phase One of the value engineering process the committees involved reviewed and revised the design materials to reduce costs and removed or changed items to meet the construction budget without impacting the educational program or square footage of the building, Delaney explained.

During Phase Two of the process, the committees identified items that will need to be removed from the budget if they are not able to secure additional funding. The following items were listed in alphabetical order during a presentation at the meeting:

  • Audio visual equipment (projections screens, televisions, etc.)
  • Colored concrete (Pavilion)
  • Concrete seat walls
  • District office
  • Granite curbing
  • Gym divider curtain (divides gym into separate instructional spaces)
  • Marker and track boards (white boards and bulletin boards)
  • Motor for basketball hoops 
  • Plantings (partial)
  • Rubber fitness flooring
  • Rubber stair treads
  • Stage curtain/rigging
  • Stage lighting
  • Stage pit filter
  • Team room building at the Athletic Field
  • Tennis courts
  • Traffic Light (at the end of the access road)
  • Vinyl tile flooring
  • Unit Pavers (Pavilion)

School Committee member Gerry Venezia stressed that all of the committees involved worked hard to stay within budget, despite the incorrect estimate and project challenges, but they felt an obligation to involve the community given that they need additional funds to complete the project the way they had described it last year. That is why a Special Town Meeting and Special Election is necessary.

Resident questions

A resident was concerned about the safety of children if items like rubber stair treads are eliminated from the budget.

"Does that mean our kids are in jeopardy of falling down the stairs if we don't get more money?" she asked.

"I'm not going to say the kids will be slipping down the stairs," Venezia said.

He also noted that it was difficult to choose which items to include in the list.

Another resident mentioned that he asked the SSBC last year if there was enough money in the budget to complete the project and the SSBC ensured him that there was. He was also concerned that the town was going to ask the community for additional funds again in the future.

According to Delaney, the SSBC believed that they were given an accurate estimate, which is why they ensured residents that the budget was sufficient. Delaney admitted that he said last year that they would not come back to the town for a dime, and he meant that then. Both Delaney and the committees involved thought they were given an accurate estimate, unfortunately, it was wrong, he said.

To address the residents concern about asking for more money a third time, Delaney read the definition of the GMP and said that it should provide some assurance that they will not be asking for additional funds again in the future. 

The resident also asked if PMA could be held accountable for giving an incorrect estimate.

Delaney explained that the SSBC "has engaged" both PMA and Dore and Whittier in discussions regarding the wrong estimate and "that is ongoing."

The town is pursuing any and all avenues, he said, and Town Counsel is aware of the situation.

Next Steps

The project is moving forward because delays could cost thousands of dollars and would also affect the phasing of the project, Venezia said. There are two additional meetings for the public, one on February 28 and another on March 14. In February, the committees hope to provide a range of how much money they may need to ask for, Delaney said. On March 14, the final Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) will be available.

According to a pamphlet handed out at the meeting, "The GMP is the amount that the Construction Manager at-Risk guarantees the project construction cost will not exceed. The GMP includes the cost of work, plus contingency, the CM's General Conditions and Fee."

Residents will be able to vote for an override at Special Town Meeting on March 18 at 7 p.m. and Special Election on March 22.

Click here for complete school building project coverage.

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