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The retaining wall along the school property is masonry and concrete.
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The shorter section runs along the former dentist office's driveway on East Main Street.
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The taller stone section is behind the former funeral home on Church Street.
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Trees have grown up close the the wall; a railing can be seen along the top.

Retaining Wall Could Hold Up Conte School Costs

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Kerry L. Dietz of Dietz & Co. Architects Inc. points out some of the exterior elements for the Conte School project.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Site costs, including work on a 300-foot retaining wall, could have a major impact on the city's share of the Conte School project.

Those figures were presented to the School Building Committee on Monday night along with a list of line items that could be eliminated.

Carl Weber, owner's project manager, and landscape architect Julie Sniezek of Guntlow & Associates said they were taken aback by the price tag attached to replacing the wall on the southwest corner of the property by the estimators.

"The retaining wall, that's estimated about $700,000, that's a lot more than we had to spend," Weber told the committee. "We're working on ways to bring the cost down but I'm thinking it will be at least a half-million maybe [$600,000]."

The latest numbers, reconciled with reports from two separate cost estimators, put the total cost for the elementary school project at $30.4 million, with the city's share at just below $7 million.

Both figures are higher than the "likely" costs calculated in March ($25.9 million and $6.1 million) but still lower than the conservative estimate ($31.4 million and $7.6 million).

The state will only reimburse site work up to 8 percent of the total figure; anything over that, the city will have to pick up.

The two "pressure points" are the exterior restorations, mostly masonry work, at $2.1 million and the retaining wall at about $700,000. Also bringing the site work costs up is the regrading of the front of the school for a play area at $465,000.

The wall runs about 300 feet along the property line between the school and a former dentist's office and a former funeral home. The average height is 9 feet, with the tallest section at 15 behind the funeral home.

That has caused some liability for the owner of the funeral home, which is vacant and has been for sale for some years, said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "They're concerned about the wall."

Weber said he had cut the cost to $400,000 in the current price estimate but after talking to Sneizek, thought it could be higher.

"I didn't think putting a $700,000 wall in a project was realistic so I thought we could do it cheaper and put in my best guess," he said.

Gary Polumbo, project manager for Maxymillion Construction and a member of the Conservation Commission, also thought the figure high.

"That just seems like an astronomical amount of money," he said, comparing it to work his company did on Route 2 at about $1.1 million for 950 feet of retaining wall that was 12 feet thick.

Alcombright said the wall should be checked by engineers to see if it had to be removed or repaired.

"We have a lot of big walls in this city that look bad," he said. "Periodically we have them checked for their structural soundness."

Sniezek said she was setting that up but the conclusions would not be known in time for next week's vote to send the project to the School Building Authority's November meeting.

The committee committed to keeping the playscape area at $465,000 but shaved off some options. Already removed from the newest estimate was $100,000 for moving costs, $200,000 for local permitting, $50,000 for equipment, $65,000 budgeted for a different playscape design and the $300,000 for the retaining wall.

The project will undergo at least two more cost estimations as the details are pinned down.

Ronald Superneau cautioned against nickel and diming, saying the committee knew going in it was going to be expensive.

"I've gone through a building and doing it the cheapest way we could to it and it doesn't work out," said the former School Committee member, urging his colleagues to "bite the bullet." "I'd hate to see us do half a good job. If we're going to do this job we need to do it and do it right."

Costs Estimates for Conte Project 9/17/2012
Tags: Conte School,   school building,   school project,   

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