North Adams Cuts Half-Million From School Project

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The School Building Committee debated whether to move forward without knowing how much it would cost to fix or replace the retaining wall.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Building Committee on Monday night voted to pare down a proposed play area in the front of Conte School to a minimum before sending the project off to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The change is expected to drop cost to the city to about $6.5 million, down from the nearly $7 million presented last week.

Site costs and exterior restoration had pumped the pricetag for the entire project up to $30.4 million; the biggest hit was a jump of $1 million for the city's piece. Fueling that increase was an estimate of nearly $400,000 (cut down from $700,000) to fix a retaining wall and $467,000 for filling and grading the play area. The committee was informed Monday that an oil tank would also have to be removed.

Mayor Richard Alcombright suggested that the committee wait until firmer numbers were known, saying he didn't feel comfortable going before the City Council to ask for a $30.4 million bond. Especially after approving to move forward in February when the cost to city was more like $5.8 million for the low estimate.

"We voted to bring it in at that level. But this is a far cry from $5.81 million," he said. "We can live with a number much closer to $6 million than we can $7 million."

"Between the hill the wall and the tank, we're looking at $2 million," said Alcombright.

Carl Weber of SBS Solutions, the owner's project manager, and Margo Jones of Margo Jones Architects, strongly advised against missing the the MSBA's November meeting because of the benchmarks that had to be hit leading up the to meeting.

They thought it possible the MSBA would allow a one-week delay, to get a report from an engineer who will be looking at the wall on Tuesday, but said the figures would continue to "ebb and flow" as work progressed.

"We won't get firm numbers in the schematic design," said Jones, who added her company had done far more detailed design work than normal for this stage. "We know the extent of the masonry repairs. If we wait another two monts, there could be escalation [in costs].

The MSBA only pays for 8 percent of site costs based on the total for trades work (utilities, etc.). Weber cautioned that "almost every project goes over in site costs."

Several committee members pointed out that the cost for the wall and play area would be almost completely borne by the city, so missing the deadline to submit schematics to the MSBA wouldn't make much sense. 

Committee member Keith Bona, a city councilor, objected to the idea the retaining wall could scotch the school project.

"We're kind of throwing it into the school project but it's a city issue," he said. "Even if we weren't doing Conte we'd have to do it sometime or later."

Carl Weber of SBS Building Solutions with one of the thick notebooks full of information on the Conte project being sent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The committee had firmed up support for the $467,000 playground last week but switched gears after more than an hour of discussion and general support for a newer rendition that moved a proposed half-court to the back of the school.

"We all loved the green space but this doesn't look anything like what we talked about and we're all OK with it," said committee member William Meranti, who urged the committee to stop "going around and around."

Sullivan School Principal Shelley Fachini said she didn't have a problem with reducing the play space. She and Greylock Principal Sandra Cote, a committee member, thought the front served better as outside classroom space than play area because of the limited time in moving kids in and out of the cafeteria and to recess.

"Having greenspace in front is kind of moot at this point," said Fachini.

Alcombright said he would still like to see if more could be trimmed but was adamant nothing relating to academics be touched.

The schematic design is expected to be presented to the MSBA board in November. If approved to the next step, the mayor will go before the City Council for bonding authority in December. The timeline has the school opening in fall 2015 but both Weber and Jones thought it could open before the end of the 2014-15 school year.

The committee also approved the special education program that laid out the classroom size, special education space, a justification for why some areas are above or below MSBA guidelines, and letters from the superintendent of schools and special education director. The summary will be reviewed by the Department of Education before going to the MSBA board.

Tags: Conte School,   MSBA,   school project,   

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