WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Building Committee on Thursday pressed its construction team for an answer to the most pressing project-related question facing the district.
"Where are we on the contingency?" committee member Al Terranova asked. "The one that's going to pay for the parking lot."
The district hopes to pay for a $700,000 renovation of the middle-high school parking lot from a $2 million "owner's contingency" built into the $64.7 million budget for the addition/renovation project.
On Thursday, the building committee approved $117,000 worth of change orders, including about $80,000 for a change to the roof of the renovated gymnasium.
Those and previously approved changes bring the contingency line down to about $1.86 million.
"There's $250,000 to $300,000 of additional changes out there," predicted owner's project manager Trip Elmore of Dore & Whittier Project Management. "Based on the knowledge I have, I expect that [contingency] number to be $1.5 million."
SBC member Richard Cohen asked Elmore when the committee will be able to have more confidence that will be the number.
"Hopefully, January," Elmore said. "What I'd like to do it get as many of the changes in front of you in January. Maybe some spills into February.
"Knowing in Februrary we'll have a little more done ... then we have a discussion of: This is what we see coming down the pike in terms of changes and exposure. Then we'll say, 'Do you want to go forward with the parking lot or not?' "
Chairman Mark Schiek tried to nail down a "drop dead" date for the district's decision, which ultimately will come from the regional Transition Committee with the advice of the School Building Committee.
"It's going to be before spring," Turner Construction's Mike Giso told the committee. "They can't start until June, and they need enough time to get some engineering submittals done."
Elmore reinforced that notion.
"If I was the sub[contractor], I'd be starting to bid pretty hard in the winter for summer work to make sure I'm capitalizing on the money-making months," he said. "I'd also have some concern that if we don't capture that guy's time — if we don't sign him up — does he get overbooked?"
"It seems like the February meeting or, at the latest, the March meeting," committee member and Williamstown Selectman Hugh Daley said.
Giso said the conservative "drop dead" date for a district decision would be February.
Cohen countered that there are two sides of the coin when it comes to acting conservatively: an earlier decision to minimize cost of the parking lot and a later decision to maximize confidence in the availability of contingency.
The bulk of the contingency funds allocated on Thursday were for a modification to existing gymnasium, which was renovated as part of the project.
"Turner was informed by the roof manufacturer that they were taking exception to how the roof membrane was being connected to the brick," Elmore said. "Brick is a porous material. The roof manufacturer said if you don't continue some kind of flashing, water could behind the brick and underneath the roof material.
"The issue would be they said they couldn't guarantee their product if we didn't get it flashed."
Elmore said the project's architect had used the connection technique in the project plan in the past without running into similar problems with vendors.
"This is one of the things with filed sub bids," architect Dan Colli told the committee, referring to the commonwealth's procurement process. "You end up with someone else, and that person says, 'This is not what I want to do.' "
Elmore said the designers looked at a cheaper fix to the issue: applying paint and seal. That would have cost just $25,000, but it would have required reapplication (and similar expense) every five years throughout the life of the building. The $80,000 change to the building plan, on the other hand, is a one-time expense, which the district can over from the contingency line item and pay for with money already borrowed at a low interest rate.
"In my opinion, we need the warranty," Daley said. "I don't want to spend the money, but we need the warranty."
That said, Daley and the committee pressed Colli to revisit the issue with the roof manufacturer, and the architect said he planned to have a further discussion on the issue.
"I'd recommend we continue to track this as an exposure to the project and revisit it in January," Elmore said.
The committee voted unanimously to approve the change orders totaling $117,351 and it got some good news and words of caution on the project's schedule.
Giso said the construction team plans to hand over the keys to the gymnasium the week of Dec. 18, and the school is on track to host its first athletic event in the space, a girls basketball game, on Jan. 3.
As fans did last weekend, they will need to walk through the temporary main entrance to the school at the south end of the complex and walk through the halls to get to the gym.
Eventually, the main entrance into the central core and foyer will provide easier access to the gym, auditorium, media center and offices.
The unknown on the project timeline — which has classrooms moving into the new three-story academic wing over April vacation — is the availability of labor.
"Turner is pushing very hard to get the labor numbers up," Elmore said. "Manpower is absolutely a concern. It's one of the things we focus on and discuss openly in our weekly [construction team] meetings: Are their enough people here? Frankly, we could use more people."
"We're competing against a [school] project in Pittsfield and projects at Williams."
Committee member Carolyn Greene said labor market constraints were not a new issue.
"I would say it's an issue we anticipated from the very beginning, knowing where we are [geographically] and the other projects in the area," Greene said. "That made the anticipated phasing ambitious, and it's still ambitious."
And, it is worth noting, the project has hit its major milestones at or before deadline to date, helped partly by cooperative weather.
Giso told the committee that the building is closed up and temporary heat is in place, allowing interior work to proceed as scheduled.
"Without raising an alarm, we're relying on Turner to let us know if the schedule starts to move so we know sooner rather than later and can act accordingly," Daley said. "We can work with if we have time to plan. If there are any problems coming that way, help us with an early warning system."
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