The Board of Education has been working on a renovation project for Berlin High School for the last seven years. Gary Brochu has been President of the BOE for that entire time and his level of frustration with the latest delay is off the charts.
The Public Building Commission has kicked the project back to the Town Council because the latest cost estimates from the construction team of architect Silver & Petrucelli and Associated, construction manager FIP and project manager Gilbane came in at 11 percent over budget.
"The Board of Education has had reservations for the last 15 months," Brochu said. "From the time FIP came in and said we would need to purchase swing space and Silver & Petrucelli never discussed this. Then FIP came in and estimated significantly more than S & P forcing us to remove a 20,000 square feet addition in an effort to get it back under $69.9 million. This was a flawed estimate from the start. There were numerous occasions that the Board of Education voiced our dissatisfaction. It's frustrating because the Board of Education doesn't have a real role in the process."
Brochu said he does not know what will come next and he had hoped to put talking about a building was behind the board.
"CAPT scores have gotten better across the board the last two to three years and things are moving forward at the high school," Brochu said. "It is a dramatically different school than it was two or three years ago but in the same building. Whatever people want to say, one thing is clear. This building is not adequate. You can't interpret the vote of the people any other way. Their message was loud and clear but how do we address it?"
The BOE approved a new program of studies for the high school. That program will offer more AP and UConn classes and will require more credits in order to graduate. The freshmen will need 27 credits to graduate while current senior need 24.
"The phasing in continues as some freshmen are taking chemistry and geometry," Brochu said. "It will take a while because we have some chem and geometry classes with freshmen and juniors because the juniors didn't have a chance to take those classes when they were freshmen. I have talked to a number of parents and they are very happy with the offerings. We have 22 or 23 college offerings and students have taken and done better in more AP classes than ever. I don't think you can deny the rigor and the offerings at the high school. Those are the things we like to talk about. Talking about the building is a necessary evil."
Brochu admitted that not having new science labs and new classroom space would make things more difficult.
"There is no question it will be more difficult," he said. "It's going to be tougher to not have new science labs in to years. It will be harder attracting top quality staff. I mean, the building is more than 60 years old. The new addition is 36 years old."
Comments have been made that the BOE is asking for a "Taj Mahal" and that is why the project is hitting a snag. Other comments put the blame squarely on Brochu and the BOE for the delay.
"I have seen the comments on Berlin Patch and to say we are asking for a Taj Mahal is ludicrous," he said. "Those people think anything beyond a new chalkboard is a Taj Mahal. The Board of Education has shown over and over and over that we have modified the project downward three separate times. We had a project to renovate the high school as new and add a 12,500 square foot metal building for tech ed and swing space. Other than wiring and plumbing, the project was simply a move to use the space in the school more effectively and regain space we weren't using. Those comments are information resistant."
Brochu was asked whether the school was in accreditation danger again since the renovation project has been put on hold. Before the project was passed at referendum, the school was on probation by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
"We have reporting requirements for both the OCR and NEASC," Brochu said. "I don't think we are in trouble with NEASC any more because of the new program of studies and other things but I'm concerned about the OCR. A large amount of the OCR violations are at Sage Park. Those don't have to be part of the high school project because we aren't getting any state money on Sage Park fixes.
"Berlin High School is not a friendly place for people with handicaps or movement restriction. The school was designed well before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but we make due. We'll see how this goes forward. It remains to be seen."