While the Town Council heard highlights of the recent proceedings about the Berlin High School renovation project, including the Planned Completion Test (PCT) Hearing at the state on Tuesday, there was very little discussion about the project.
After the meeting, Berlin Patch asked two members of the Council for their thoughts on the project, which has come in with cost estimates at least $8 million over the previous estimates.
Mayor Adam Salina was very confident and said that the only way the Town Council would go back to the residents of Berlin for more money for the project would be "as a last resort."
Councilor David Evans, however, said the Town has failed to take the proper actions at several critical junctures in the renovation process.
"We have to understand that we're looking at numbers from almost three years ago," Salina said after the meeting. "It is something you run into all the time in projects of this scale. The original numbers came in so long ago that we need to make sure FIP and Silver + Petrucelli are on the same page too and have time to reconcile their numbers. They were under a strict time restraint this time to get us to the PCT meeting.
"It is important that we can stay on schedule so that instead of going off estimates that we have hard numbers and real bids. I was happy to hear that the first part of the PCT review was a good one. Once we get real bids we will know if we are short of funding and there will be remedies provided that we can seek to get as much money as we can for the high school."
When asked what kind of remedies he was talking about, Salina continued, "Whether it be legislative or administrative, we will pursue every avenue as far as funding the high school. You hear about schools going through the funding process with the state pretty often and we will be looking at any additional funding that we can attain. I would only consider going back to the public for more money at a referendum as a last resort."
Evans, who is on the high school advisory committee and has attended all but one of the PBC and BOE meetings dealing with the renovation project said he doesn't understand the rush to push forward with rising cost estimates. He also said that while he believes the Board of Education is driving the design according to its Statement of Need but made several good points at its meeting last Thursday night.
"I don't get the anxiousness to get the shovel in the ground," he said. "There are decisions being made not only by elected officials but by paid town staff that have pushed this ahead incorrectly. There have been mistakes made in my opinion at critical junctures to push the project ahead. The first was when the first estimate was based on a erroneous report of square footage. We should have stopped to figure things out there and the Superintendent even said, 'We are going to need more money.' Then when Attorney (Tim) Corey was brought in and said we were so close we should continue, I made a motion to stop and take pause at that point but was outvoted. Each time we kick this down the road, the cost estimates keep going higher. At some point we're going to get to a breaking point.
"To say we are $8 million over is really around $14 million because the $8 million over is just for the construction and does not include the contingencies. We've gone from approving $70 million to now needing $84 million. There is a math problem here. It just doesn't add up.
"I thought Gary Brochu had a good point the other night when the Board of Ed. met with the PBC. He asked if we should stop with Phase I when we're not sure where the cost estimates for Phase II will come in. He was saying are we going to get stuck with this outbuilding, which we really didn't want in the first place and not be able to renovate the rest of the school?
"The townsfolk should know that this project is going to come in way over budget. I heard the Mayor said that going out to get more money from the town would be 'a last resort' but he can't believe that. I think we need to have an honest conversation about this and the facts needs to be portrayed in a straightforward way. I don't see how getting hard numbers over estimates are going to help lower the cost. There is a math problem here and it is a big one."