WINSLOW — Winslow High School probably will get a band and chorus room instead of an auditorium and a new freezer instead of a whole cafeteria addition, but plans for a gymnasium expansion remain intact at this point.

Not everyone is convinced it will come in under budget or on time.

Rising construction costs have pushed the cost of renovation of Winslow High School, to accommodate the seventh and eighth grades, and to the elementary school, to accommodate sixth-graders, beyond the $8.1 million voters approved in a referendum in June 2018. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

While nothing has been finalized, Superintendent Peter Thiboutot and members of the Winslow school board agreed that this option, which is being referred to as Option 3, is the most cost-effective and true to the initial design.

“We all know the restrictions that we’re working around. We all know that time is of the essence. We all know that we want to get the closest thing to the scope of the project that we can possibly get, which is Option 3. We all know that Option 3 could have a possibility at a later date to continue to add the other pieces (if approved), … so it still maintains the integrity of the project. It still maintains the scope of the project,” Thiboutot said Wednesday night at a budget workshop with the school board and the Town Council.

Steven Blatt Architects and Ledgewood Construction are updating a cost estimate for the plan, which was quoted in early February at $776,000 over the voter-approved $8.1 million budget. The original design was estimated to be $3.125 million over budget. A pre-construction schedule from Ledgewood dated March 21 notes that half of the construction design documents will be complete by April 5; and the remaining portion, by May 3.

“As long as everything designwise stays on track, we should have the (projected budget) by the first of May,” Pelletier said.

If the pricing exceeds $8.1 million, the project cannot be implemented without either the Town Council voting to allocate more money to it or residents approving another bond via referendum, according to William A. Lee III, Winslow’s town attorney. If it comes in at or under $8.1 million, Pelletier said, the project could be put out to bid by mid-May.

Councilor Ken Fletcher expressed uncertainty about whether the plans can be cut down enough to come in under budget.

“I haven’t seen any update as to what their thoughts are to remove (over) $700,000 from the project to have it come in to $8.1 million,” he said Thursday. “That would mean they’re going to have close to a 10 percent reduction in the project for it to come to $8.1 million. So I’m just concerned we … haven’t gotten definitive answers. Maybe the school board has, but I didn’t hear it last night, and time is running out. What happens if the architect and the construction manager say, ‘We can’t do it for 8.1’? What’s Plan B? What’s going to happen?”

Winslow School Board Chairman Joel Selwood said that the construction manager is “doing some value engineering” to see if cheaper materials can be used to achieve the goals of Option 3 while keeping it within the $8.1 million budget.

“I got (an email) today about, ‘Can we reconfigure the fitness room and not do this wall or not do that door and save a few bucks but make this work,'” Selwood told the council. “I mean, those sorts of conversations are going on.”

He added that the $360,000 projection for renovation of the elementary school also needs to be “firm(ed) up.”

“Until we have our estimates on the revisions and the trimming up that we’re doing of Option 3, I don’t know if money is going to be a problem or not,” Selwood said. “We’re hoping to get to $8.1 million, but until we see those numbers, we don’t know for sure.”

“Right now we got to figure out what we’re building and go from there,” Selwood added Wednesday night. 

Thiboutot is hopeful that construction will start June 17, per the schedule issued by Ledgewood. He said it was planned as a 16-month project.

“We’re still shooting for that,” Thiboutot said.

Construction originally had been scheduled to start in May.

Thiboutot told the council that the process needs to move quickly because the bond already has been issued and delaying another summer could cause construction costs to rise even higher. Winslow Town Manager Mike Heavener previously stated that 85 percent of the bond must be used within three years or the town will face a penalty.

But again, Fletcher said he had cause to question the timing.

“We learned (that the project was over budget) in the front part of February,” he said. “Here we are coming into April, and based on what I heard last night, the architect and the construction manager are still working on it, which is fine; but I’m concerned we’re going to run out of time for the construction season.”

Selwood outlined a concern of his own Wednesday night about finding adequate labor.

“One of the things that Peter Pelletier, the construction manager, had indicated when we were meeting was that one sub(contractor) he’s used a number of times indicated that they’re 33 people short going into the construction season,” Selwood told the council. “It just goes to show that … finding good people is hard to do, and will that ultimately be an effect on the timeline if they can’t find people? I mean, one of the reasons costs are going up is because they’re having to pay more people overtime with everything else to try to keep these projects on schedule; so it’s a tough market out there, the construction market, but that was a pretty shocking number.”

Pelletier said he was in the middle of a project and could not take more questions Thursday morning.

“This is a very important project,” Fletcher said. “If we were paving a road, it’s important, but it’s just traffic. This is about our kids’ education moving forward. I’m not satisfied that we’re doing what we need to do.”

The School Board, architect and construction manager have been scrambling to come up with alternatives to the plans to renovate Winslow High School and Winslow Elementary School since Pelletier and architect Doug Breer announced on Feb. 12 that the full plan would cost $3.125 million more than the amount voters approved.  At the time, Pelletier cited rising construction costs, labor shortages and contractors “looking to make up some of their losses” from the recession as factors for the increase, which members of the Town Council and the public disputed.

Funding for the school project has been a contentious issue in Winslow since as early as June 2017, when the first $10.33 million budget was announced. A study committee had found the junior high school, built in 1928, was inefficient and hazardous and that the most economical solution would be to move sixth-graders to the elementary school building and seventh- and eighth-graders to the high school. Before voters passed the $8.1 million budget in June 2018 by a 56-vote difference, townspeople rejected a $10.3 million bond in 2017 and an $8.6 million did not survive the Town Council to make it to referendum.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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