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The School Building Needs Commission and elected officials were shown around the construction site by Dave Deforst of Gilbane Construction.

Taconic Construction: Project On Budget

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Taconic High School construction budget is trending on target, according to Thomas Meyer of project manager Skanska USA.
Construction on the $120.8 million high school is 43 percent complete, and hitting the halfway mark in the coming weeks. On Monday, the School Building Needs Commission, along with state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Paul Mark, Mayor Linda Tyer, and an array of city councilors took a tour of the building.
Following the tour, Skanska officials reported that the project is both on time and on budget.
Meyer used the contingency budgets as the way to track the project. Those budgets are used for unexpected circumstances and if costs for certain pieces exceed what was originally budgeted. Meyer said about a third of the total contingency is remaining — $2.4 million was spent and $4.8 million remains.
"It's like going into the bottom of the ninth, I'd rather be ahead 2-1 than behind 2-1. We're ahead," Meyers said.
There are three contingency funds. The Gilbane Construction, which is managing the construction, contingency is in the guaranteed maximum price. 
"To date, they've spent about 40 percent of their construction contingency, meaning they have 60 percent left. That's good news because they are 43 percent completed construction. If you ever get ahead on your contingency based on your percentage of complete that's an indication that there is an issue," Meyers said. "They're doing good. They are not using contingency more than they are doing the project."
The owner construction contingency, which is the city's contingency, is about 30 percent spent, most of which was for the removal of unforeseen contaminated soils. That total budget was $3.84 million.
"We used about $1 million of that for unsuitable soil. The good is since then, we've used less than $50,000," Meyers said.
The owner's soft costs are for such things as furniture. Meyer said only 19 percent of that was spent so far, and Skanska is now gearing up to order the furniture in the spring. Right now the company is finalizing cost estimates.
Those contingencies are all worked into the project budget. If those do not get spent, that would mean the city would not have to bond as much at the end of the project. The anticipation is that the Massachusetts School Building Authority will reimburse about 65 percent of the total costs. The city is expecting to have to borrow $46 million but has only financed $10 million for the long term. The city will be bonding throughout the project, and then doing a final close out once all of the costs are known.
Ward 6 City Councilor John Krol is already looking at how to spend anything that comes under the authorization. What isn't included in the project is any work on the track, football field, or baseball field. Those are costs that the MSBA won't reimburse and were pulled from the design to keep costs down. If the contingency isn't spent, Krol suggested directing some of those funds to fix those field up.
"Hopefully that is a consideration for some of the contingency dollars," Krol said.
Superintendent Jason McCandless said that decision is out of the School Building Needs Commission's hands. The only way to direct those funds would be through another process with the City Council and the mayor's office.
"We would certainly be happy with moving forward with that and sort of complete the entire campus. I think it would be up to the City Council and the mayor to direct that money," McCandless said.
Krol said he believes the rest of the campus should be fixed up if there are savings ultimately seen. 
"It is a brand-new school, brand-new campus, and we ought to have a brand new track," Krol said.
Meyer said he already has some estimates and the costs can range from doing the bare minimum for $400,000 to doing a full replacement of everything at $4.5 million. 
The School Building Needs Commission held only a brief meeting following the site tour. John Benzinger, from Skanska, reported that the work is progressing on schedule. The workers have been hitting the milestones as set out in the project schedule, he said.
The commission members expressed delight in the building's progress. 
"To see the building from design and discussion to visualizing walls and the auditorium is phenomenal," Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso said. "I can't wait to see when this building is done."
City Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo was particularly impressed with the cleanliness of the construction site.
"It was probably the cleanest and nicest looking site I've been on," she said.
The project is expected to be completed next July with the students moving into the building for the 2018-2019 school year. Then, the current building will be fenced off and demolished. The last step would be to reconstruct the playing fields that were lost on the ground of the current school.
iBerkshires has been following the construction since the beginning. Below is a slideshow from each visit. The latest photos are first, and then the slideshow is in chronological order since the start of construction.

Tags: school building committee,   Taconic school project,   

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Pittsfield Continues Tax Classification Hearing Over Free Cash

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

Mayor Linda Tyer says she wants to focus on building reserves. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday continued the tax classification hearing after clashing with the mayor over how much free cash should be used to offset the tax rate.
At the end of a nearly three-hour meeting, councilors and Mayor Linda Tyer were at a stalemate with the majority of the council unsatisfied with Tyer's $750,000 compromise.
"We are taking this out of the pockets of our taxpayers and putting it into the city coffers," Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said. "I know that's how it works but at this moment we can afford to give some of that savings back."
The original proposal was a residential tax rate of $19.99 per $1,000 valuation and a commercial rate of $39.96 per $1,000 valuation, which holds the residential rate to a 57 cent increase and the commercial rate to a 2 cent increase.
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