When the Public Building Commission met at the end of last calendar year, architects Silver Petruceli + Associates presented an estimate. That estimate said the high school renovations would cost $73M instead of the $69M approved at referendum by the town residents.
Immediately, residents who were in favor of the project and of course those who were never in favor of spending town money to fix the high school showed frustration and calls to kill the project.
"We are trying to come up with a configuration that has everything in it without going over the amount budgeted from the referendum which is hard," Public Building Commission Chairman Jim Ouellette said. "The initial budget numbers came back and were higher than the budget. We have reviewed them and we are very close to the budget now."
The plan has been sent back to the Board of Education.
Both the Mayor and the President of the Berlin Board of Education caution residents to get all the facts first before trying to kill the plan.
So according to those in charge, here are the facts.
“We are still early in the process,” Berlin Mayor Adam Salina said. “What we received were estimates based on a design. We use the estimates to determine whether to bid out the current plan or to make adjustments.
“Nothing is over budget at this time because nothing has been spent or even bid at this point. This was an exercise well worth going through at this point to ensure the final design comes in at the approved budget amount and the plan meets the requirements set out in the statement of need.
“It must come in at the approved budget and it must address all of the problems we have with ADA, NEASC and OCR."
Ouellette said, "This is a huge project. We can't spend more money so we have to make the cuts needed to make sure we get what we want and need. It's a big school.
"People might wonder how the numbers can float around and the biggest reason is we are turning the building inside out. The architects made conceptual drawings but now it is down to the inch and spaces will change a little bit. Every little change adds up. I am confident once the report comes back from the Board of Education and we meet with the architects we will be able to accept the schematic design and move forward."
When asked when the project would start or be finished, Ouellette could only guess.
"I'm thinking it will start in a year and a half but that is just a best guess," he said. "It will be hard to start when kids are in school so that limits us to the summer months but that too is up in the air. Maybe we can find enough swing space to start when the kids are in school. I think within three months we will have a better idea of dates and logistics. Right now they would all be premature."
BOE President Gary Brochu said the estimate was sent back to the board and they will try to reconcile that number with the one that was approved by voters at referendum.
"We are the customer in this transaction," Brochu said. "What the PBC has asked us is do all the science labs need to be the same size? Do we need 1,200 feet of space for a science room or will 1,000 feet be enough? We have met with the high school administration and we are going over the plans so we can come up with something that meets our expectations within budget.
"I am confident that we will be able to come up with a plan that will satisfy all the needs we have. The catch is if we do not renovate 100 percent of the school we will not be eligible for the state reimbursement. That would be giving away $25M. There have been a lot of twists and turns but PBC will soon have a plan that is ready to go out to bid. I understand that people want to know when the project will start and when it will be done. I have a soon-to-be ninth grader who wants to know every day. I can’t wait for it to be done. The Board commissioned a study six years ago and that was before we had the problem with accreditation. When the school is done, with the building and new program of studies, I would welcome that accreditation visit. It will be an awfully impressive school when the building and the program of studies are done."