WINSLOW — Officials were hit with a series of questions from town councilors and members of the public as they presented a plan to bring the contentious high school and elementary school renovation project under $8.1 million.

Town Councilors Ken Fletcher, Jerry Quirion and Ray Caron wanted to know when the prices will be locked in, when construction will be completed, why costs per square foot have changed since last year and what will happen if few or no subcontractors submit bids for certain components of the project.

In short: Costs will be finalized in the middle of June after bids come back, and construction will begin July 1 and wrap up by the end of August 2020, according to Construction Manager Peter Pelletier of Ledgewood Construction. Price per square foot has changed because some areas, including bathrooms and a mechanical room, had to be increased from the original schematic design, said Architect Doug Breer of Stephen Blatt Architects. There is $325,000 of bid contingency to accommodate higher-than-expected proposals, according to Pelletier, who also said he would “turn over every rock we can” to get competitive bids.

The Winslow school department held an informational meeting with Breer and Pelletier Monday night. Next steps in the plan will be discussed at a special school board meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the junior high school library.

Pelletier said that bid packages will go out next week, and there will be up to three and a half weeks for subcontractors to respond, which is about a week longer than usual. He will then interview the lowest two or three bidders for each trade before making a selection.

“Subcontractors are absolutely railed straight right now, so we need to give them more time … so they’ll take a look at our job,” he noted. “Ledgewood is going to be your cheerleader for the project, making sure subcontractors are interested in the project so we can get competitive numbers.”

So far, changes to the original plans that were drafted last year include adding a 2,160 square-foot band room instead of building a 410-seat auditorium or, as was later proposed, 3,825 square-foot band and chorus room. The existing auditorium will stay in tact, and the current band and chorus room will be renovated for exclusive use by the chorus, saving just under $400,000 from the original plan. There will be a new freezer added to the cafeteria instead of an entirely new cafeteria. The gymnasium will receive a 2,960 square-foot expansion, which is 110 square-feet larger than previously proposed.

Breer said that, aside from the new band-chorus plan, the biggest cost savings involved “clever reworkings of spaces” in the elementary and high school, such as turning existing classrooms into a new art room and modifying the old art room into costume and set storage space for the drama department, which will cede its current space to make way for the renovated chorus room. Additionally, he noted that by shifting the seventh and eighth grade wing of the high school down 10 to 12 feet, it would avoid relocating electrical lines, which would have been “very expensive.”

“We saved $200,000 by reducing the scope of the high school renovation,” said Pelletier, adding that the elementary school renovations, which were not fully priced out at the last meeting in February, came in $100,000 below what he expected.

Architect Doug Breer explains how designs could be altered to stay within budget for the planned Winslow school renovations during an informational meeting Monday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Breer, Pelletier and others involved with the renovations have identified “eight or nine add alternates,” or items that “would be nice to have, but we can get by without.” The list includes anything from fancier windows to more extensive alterations to the front office of the elementary school. These items would be paid for by leftover contingency funds after the base materials and services have been purchased or by the buffer between actual costs and the guaranteed maximum price.

Contractors will work on the additions to existing buildings this summer and will complete the renovations to the current spaces in a “summer blitz” next year “to minimize disruption to students and teachers,” according to Pelletier. Smaller bursts of work like hooking utilities back into the buildings “might be able to be (completed) during … school vacations,” he said.

“I think it’s very doable,” Pelletier added.

In February, Pelletier announced that increased construction costs brought the original designs $3.1 million over the budget that Winslow voters approved last June. For the past two and a half months, Pelletier, Breer, Superintendent Peter Thiboutot, administrators and members of the school building committee have been communicating about how to cut costs while still meeting needs.

Fletcher has criticized Thiboutot and the school board’s lack of timely communication about changes to the plans since February. The superintendent said information was difficult to provide because many conversations took place informally over email and had not been solidified or synthesized into a summary or plan before last week. Thiboutot released Pelletier’s summary, 50% complete construction documents, a budget summary comparison and cost-per-square-foot comparison Thursday evening, after Fletcher requested information ahead of Monday’s meeting to avoid a “repeat of the February 12 meeting whereby (a) … ‘surprise’ of a major cost overrun was announced.”

There were no surprises Monday night.

Breer, Pelletier, Thiboutot and School Board Chair Joel Selwood all praised the teamwork that has gone into making sure the project remains under budget.

“The entire team has been good stewards of money,” Pelletier said. “I have to say I was impressed that even though there were multiple players, multiple stakeholders, I didn’t hear ‘Mine’s first.’ … Everyone knew that if we weren’t getting it in on budget, we weren’t going to get anything.”

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