WINSLOW — With a series of tweaks to the original Winslow elementary and high school renovation plans, the latest projection puts the project below the voter-approved $8.1 million budget.

A public information meeting has been scheduled for at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Winslow High School auditorium to go over the new proposal.

A 50 percent complete construction document from Ledgewood Construction estimates an overall cost of $8,098,224, which includes $650,000 of contingency and is $1,776 below the $8.1 million limit.

Superintendent of Schools Peter Thiboutot, shown here, school leaders and the architect and construction manager of the Winslow school renovation project plan to deliver on Monday the results of their work to bring the project under the budget approved by Winslow voters. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Superintendent Peter Thiboutot said the plan will most closely follow what is being referred to as “Option 3,” which would add band and chorus rooms to the high school instead of a 410-seat auditorium and would install a new freezer instead of an entirely renovated cafeteria.

“Over the past two months, we have explored several scope-reducing, value management options to bring the budget down,” reads a May 1 summary from construction manager Peter Pelletier. “Some of these included renovating the existing Band and Chorus room for Chorus use only, allowing the addition to be reduced in square footage for Band only; redesigning the roof structure over the new Classroom addition to deal with the snow drifting loads, eliminating the requirement to reinforce the existing school roof; tightening up the scopes of both the High School and Elementary renovations.”

Pelletier added that research on “current market conditions and workloads” and the “level of completeness of the documents we had to work with” makes him confident that the newest figures are accurate and that the project will be completed under budget.

The meeting comes nearly three months after Pelletier announced that the initial plan would cost $3.1 million more than the amount approved by Winslow residents last June. At that meeting, which took place Feb. 12, Pelletier cited rising construction costs as the main cause of the increase. The announcement strained an already tense relationship between Winslow’s School Department and the Town Council, which wants to keep the project as inexpensive as possible.

This week, tension heightened again after Councilor Ken Fletcher expressed concern that Monday’s meeting could blindside the council the way it did in February. The initial meeting notice from Thiboutot, sent Wednesday, did not indicate that the project would be under budget, nor did it contain specific details about what components would be altered or removed from the plan. Fletcher had requested that the entire council be made aware of what would be announced at Monday’s meeting ahead of time.

“With all due respect, I would not want to walk into a meeting that was a repeat of the February 12 meeting whereby another ‘surprise’ of a major cost overrun was announced by the School Board,” he wrote in an email Wednesday evening addressed to Thiboutot and School Board Chair Joel Selwood.

Councilor Ken Fletcher believes there needs to be more communication between the schools and the Town Council concerning the renovations that are expected to cost taxpayers $8.1 million. Kennebec Journal file photo by Andy Molloy

Thiboutot responded Thursday afternoon with confirmation that the plan would come in below $8.1 million.

“We are pleased to report that based on the conversation (the architect, the construction manager and school leadership) had on Tuesday, Option 3 will be presented without ‘cost overrun’ at Monday’s meeting,” Thiboutot told town officials and members of the school board.

While drawings and documents still are being finalized for Monday’s meeting, Thiboutot said, he provided on Thursday evening a glimpse of what the public can expect Monday evening and delivered the written summary, 50 percent complete construction documents, a budget summary comparison and a cost-per-square-foot comparison to Town Council Chairman Steve Russell, Town Manager Mike Heavener and the Morning Sentinel.

Fletcher maintained that this answer was insufficient, and that the entire council should receive the same information by 11 a.m. Friday. His request was met with a response of “Wow” from school board member John Ferry, and Councilor Trish West questioned whether Fletcher was “allowed to give a deadline to the school board and our superintendent.” The information ultimately was given to the full council Friday morning, according to Fletcher.

“I appreciate the update and the recognition that this project has been a critical concern but I must tell you that I am still troubled by the lack of communication from the School Board,” Fletcher wrote Thursday night. “The Town Council has repeatedly asked the School Board for updates. … The bottom line question is … why did the School Board not communicate directly with the Town Council on this matter before we all received a ‘meeting notice’?”

When Option 3 was first presented on Feb. 12 as one of four avenues to pursue, Pelletier priced it at about $8,876,000, or $776,000 over budget. Only one option was less expensive at the time and would have included the full cafeteria renovation and an added band and chorus room, but no gymnasium expansion and no auditorium. The projected cost for this route was $8,260,000.

Since February, Thiboutot has presented councilors and school board members with vague updates about cutting costs to make Option 3 less than $8.1 million. These mostly consisted of reports that there has been a flurry of emails among the architect, the construction manager, teachers, administrators and members of the building committee concerning “value engineering” and ways to cut costs while still meeting the needs of the educators and students who will use the spaces.

Fletcher repeatedly has asked for more detailed information, voicing concern that “we haven’t gotten definitive answers.”

Thiboutot defended his previous communications by noting that “this has been a back and forth process, and while discussions were ongoing it was not possible to characterize or summarize them, other than to indicate that we were still working our way through the issues in an effort to arrive at a result that was solid enough to be ready to share.”

Fletcher said that the details given Friday morning provided some sense of relief.

“I think it’s important to have open and honest communications,” he told the Morning Sentinel. “I think it’s good news that the project can move forward and that they’ve arrived at this point. Hopefully going forward there will be no more surprises and we’ll get the right management structure in place. We don’t have time and we don’t have a lot of money. We’re in the process of working through a challenging budget, which will probably involve raising the mil rate. That’s all a part of it in my mind. We really did have a major issue, and I was concerned that the voters were told something (false) last June. I don’t know if they’re going to be totally pleased with the (new plan), but we have to be honest with them.”

 


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