WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Building Committee last week unanimously recommended that the district go forward with a rebuild of the middle-high school parking lot at a cost not to exceed $975,000.
For months, the School Building Committee and the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee have been considering whether to include the parking lot in the ongoing addition/renovation project at Mount Greylock.
At issue is whether the district expects to have contingency funds available in the $64.7 million building project to pay for the parking lot, an expense that would be borne entirely by the district with no reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
"As we reviewed [the budget] together, the finance working group in the pre-meeting, I am confident," owner's project manager Trip Elmore of Dore & Whittier Project Management told the SBC. "You have 67 percent of the job done, and you've spent 15 percent [of the owner's contingency], it suggests to me the contingency is available.
"We've done what we can do to give you good advice."
The building committee and the regional school committee -- now the Transition Committee that governs the expanded PreK-12 district -- have been balancing the need to wait as long as possible to get an accurate picture of the contingency line item against the need to schedule the parking lot work this summer.
There is cost savings associated with adding the parking lot to the scope of the building project, set to be completed in December 2018. Doing it this summer means redoing the parking lot while contractors already on site and financing the parking lot with the low-interest bond already in place for the building project.
On the other hand, if the Transition Committee decides to spend down the contingency -- currently at about $1.36 million -- it leaves the district vulnerable to unknown costs that may arise as the add/reno project wraps up.
The Transition Committee, an amalgam of the elected Lanesborough Elementary, Williamstown Elementary and Mount Greylock school committees, is responsible for all decisions that impact the district after July 1. In November, long after the window for redoing the parking lot during the building project has closed, voters in Lanesborough and Williamstown will elect the first seven-member Mount Greylock School Committee to govern the expanded district.
Last Tuesday, Elmore reported that the district has a low bid for $761,000 to redo the parking lot itself and a second bid of $206,000 to install lights and cameras in the lot.
That total comes to $968,000, but the administration asked the committee to advance the higher "not-to-exceed" number."
"The district is still interested in modifying some of the lighting design and working with the design consultant to further investigate how this goes," Elmore said. "The district has informed me they would like more time to get the lighting and the layout of the cameras better refined. … We're asking for a not-to-exceed number of $975,000 with hopes they can reduce that cost, but this gives them some latitude."
Much of the discussion at Tuesday's meeting centered around the building project's schedule, modified from its original plan to have students and teachers occupying a new three-story academic wing this spring.
Committee members pressed Mike Giso of Turner Construction for assurances that the general contractor will be able to deliver the building in time for the start of classes in the fall for the 2018-19 academic year.
Giso laid out the current timeline, which shows most of the project completed and ready for occupancy in July. The outliers are the renovated auditorium, which is complicated by its adjacency to the "old school building," which can't be abated until school gets out in June, and "area B," the health, guidance, life skills and alternate physical education space, the next space to be completed.
"This whole area [area B] is looking at the end of April, the third week or an end of April time frame to get that area buttoned up," Giso said.
Alluding to the project's delayed opening of the school's renovated gymnasium, two members of the committee tried to hold Giso's feet to the fire.
"I would hope in our May meeting, you can come back and say, 'We completed Area B on April 25,' " committee member and Williamstown Select Board Chairman Hugh Daley said. "We need to start seeing some wins where dates are projected and dates are held so we have confidence in meeting our end date."
Co-Chairwoman Paula Consolini noted that the project this winter has been -- and could continue to be -- hampered by weather-related delays, but Chairman Mark Schiek was not having it.
"That's a good point, Paula, but Hugh's point is well taken," Schiek said. "We didn't have weather delays for the gym, and we were a month and a half late.
"The confidence level needs to be brought back up, and I agree with Hugh. If we're going to deliver in April, let's deliver in April."
In other business at its March meeting, a $150,000 invoice for inspection services from the town of Williamstown sparked an inquiry from member and Lanesborough resident Richard Cohen about whether the building project is being overcharged for permitting. Cohen asked whether the district had received an itemized accounting of the costs actually incurred by the town and said permitting charges are often used by municipalities to generate revenue.
Cohen also asked whether Williamstown had collected similar permitting fees for Williamstown Elementary School, built in 2003.
Committee member Carolyn Greene pointed to a letter from Town Hall dated Dec. 9, 2015, that discusses the $300,000 the project budgeted for permitting and inspection costs and read aloud from the letter.
"‘We will track the eligible costs and hours through the project and assess these charges to the project at the end of the project if funds still remain for permitting and inspection after other external charges have been paid,' " Greene read from Town Manager Jason Hoch. " 'My sense is this would constitute a partial waiver of what would otherwise be charged by the town.' "
Cohen said he interpreted the letter to mean the town said the district should be prepared to pay more than $300,000 for permitting when all is said and done. Greene said her interpretation was that the town was capping permitting fees at $300,000 and that would be a discount for what the inspection normally would cost.
"Was this an understanding between the former superintendent and the town, or was the School Building Committee involved," asked Cohen, who joined the School Building Committee after the 2015 letter. "Just because we received a letter doesn't mean this body approved it. Especially given the circumstances of the last superintendent …"
Former Superintendent Douglas Dias abruptly stepped down at the beginning of the second year of a three-year contract in November 2016. Cohen was a member of the Mount Greylock School Committee at the time.
Schiek agreed to follow up on the invoice with the Williamstown and the committee chose not to vote on an appropriation to cover the expense at Tuesday's meeting.
"Some people think $300,000 is a good deal," Cohen said. "If that's true, an accounting of the cost would explain that."
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