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North Reading SSBC Plans Special Election and Town Meeting for School Building Project

Determined to save educational programs, the committee anticipates a budget shortfall as the construction documents develop.

Late in 2012, the Secondary Schools Building Committee (SSBC) learned that some line items exceeded original budget estimates for the school building project. With the construction documents for the project currently 60 percent complete, the SSBC foresees more cost overruns once the documents are 90 percent complete. Therefore, they plan to ask the town for additional funds at a Special Election and Special Town Meeting.

The created by eliminating certain building features in December has been reduced to a cushion of $155,692 due to adding $200,000 in security equipment, which had previously been deferred from the budget. Selectmen Chairman Sean Delaney concurred with Superintendent Kathleen Willis and School Committee member Gerald Venezia that no educational programs would be compromised by cutbacks. They stated that all alternatives to non-essential elements in the original plan are being considered for elimination. For example, rather than incorporating an administrative suite of offices on the building site other office space available in town would be substituted.

The construction documents are scheduled to be 90 percent complete in February and a new budget estimate should be available Feb. 25. The final Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) is expected by March 11, according to Willis. Once the SSBC has that figure, they will know how much more than the original budget of 107.7 million they will have to ask for at Special Town Meeting.

The Board of Selectmen and School Committee will meet on Jan. 28 to confirm the dates for a Special Town Meeting and Special Election. Right now, the tentative dates are March 18 for Special Town Meeting and March 23 for Special Town Election.

According to School Committee Chairman Mel Webster, the philosophy is that residents should have the opportunity to vote again. At Special Town Meeting, residents will be presented with all of the information regarding the budget. They will also be informed of what the school will be like if they vote for the override and what it will be like if they do not vote for the override and the SSBC has to work with the existing budget.

Informational meetings for the public are tentatively planned for Jan. 29, Feb. 28 and March 14. The focus of these meetings is to explain the revised costs and the impact those costs will have on residents.

"The March 14 meeting will focus on financial information associated with the final GMP. The presentation will provide details regarding the additional funds needed to complete the project as originally planned and what the tax impact would be on the average household," Willis said.

Mel Webster January 17, 2013 at 09:23 PM
Ed -- for the final time. The MSBA has completely changed the rules on how towns build and renovate schools. It is far different from when you were a liaison to other school projects. NOTHING was done wrong, Ed. The SSBC followed every step it was required to follow. Your continued misrepresentation of the facts is not helpful to anyone.
Ed Canney January 17, 2013 at 09:30 PM
Scuttle!! Hogwash!! The Swan Pond site for the Batchelder School failed 3 perk tests. There was too much ledge. How could you build a school w/out a septic? Mel you have to at some point rely on public records.There at the town hall. That site failed three perk tests! Weren't you informed? And that's my point...rather than say the site was unacceptable, you say scuttled! There was no scuttle...it was a poor site. Do you think those tests were manipulated? You had your own engineer for those tests...did he say anything about scuttling the results of the perk tests?
Ed Canney January 17, 2013 at 09:38 PM
So what is correct 8th or 10th? And what do you include in that number? Salaries, health care, retirement, special ed? I know what's included & not included Mel. Been there. done that. Its all about swaying public perception that we don't spend sufficiently for the schools. 65% of the budget is sufficient, is it not. Ask a Fire Fighter.
Ed Canney January 17, 2013 at 10:10 PM
For the final time Mel, just what was your response as a public official when you learned the septic pipe was drilled thru during tests by your contractor? Cover it up!! Seems so.
Mel Webster January 17, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Ed - 8th from the bottom was the lowest North Reading ranked on per pupil spending, but I cannot get my hands on those records. However, in Fiscal 2006 the town spent $8,429 per student and was 11th from the bottom or 339th out of 350 districts.. The town has stepped up its commitment to education and that is a good thing. For fiscal year 2011, the last year for which statistics have been released by the state, North Reading spent $11,842 per student, while the state average is $13,361 per student. Out of 350 school districts (not including regional districts), North Reading ranked 247th in per pupil spending. Again, These are FACTs straight from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. As for your claims about the Swan Pond site not passing perk tests, I am not sure where you are getting your information, I have newspaper articles dating back to 1997 and not one mentions any issues related to perk tests. This will be my last response to you. You continue to ignore the facts while spreading misinformation.
Mel Webster January 17, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Ed. Nothing was covered up. It is impossible to deal with you and I am through, You can go on spreading your misinformation undeterred by me.
Jeff Witts January 17, 2013 at 11:17 PM
Ed, My last repsonse as well as you seem to always want the last word. In this case, it is both ways. The SSBC correctly supplied numbers that were estimated by hired experts approved by the state. So, yes they were blinded sided by the state. There are two ways this could have been avoided. First, the SSBC could have added 10% to the project for no reason other than to have extra money, just in case. They would have been lambasted by you and many others if they did this. Also, the state probably would have redacted the 10% anyway. Second, the comittee could have been filled with contruction experts familiar with building public schools or other large commercial building projects. Therefore, the SSBC may have been better equipped to challenge the estimates. Guess what, noboby volunteered with this experience. I know early on the SSBC desparately tried to find this talent and was not successful.
Kevin MacDonald January 18, 2013 at 02:03 AM
1% of the sales tax goes toward the Massachusetts School Building Authority. When a person looks at a project like the proposed Wilmington High School project and then looks at a cost estimating company like Reed Construction Data (RS MEANS) and sees that there may be a problem with over inflated prices and contracts that are not going out for competitive bid on the State's Central Register he may recognize massive waste. He may also feel that a community should not knock down a structurally sound building that could be used to generate income for a community when that community could build a school for less money on another site. He should recognize that regional schools could help defray costs of education. A Wilmington/North Reading regional school would accomplish that. Someone please take a look also into Wilmington's North Intermediate School window project. A same size school two years ago (the Shawsheen School) was reported to have a window designer contract of $84,000 and this North Intermediate school has a designer cost of $207,000. These designer costs do not have to go out for competitive bid on the State's Central Register. This is a huge mistake. There is a lot of nonsense that should be eliminated before raising taxes. I just think on the economical issues that we could be doing things differently to gain success. Hammering people in taxes leaves them without disposable income to put back into the economy.
Rob January 18, 2013 at 10:41 AM
Of course it was bait and switch.
Nick January 18, 2013 at 01:00 PM
Learn to work within the budget! Our tax rate has increased 11.54% over the past year and it's the highest in the area. What's been done to control spending and decrease the tax burden on the residents, nothing. You got the money to build a school a place of learning not a sports complex.
MPG January 18, 2013 at 01:22 PM
110% correct John.
Ed Canney January 18, 2013 at 04:57 PM
No John, just better answers than you do. Why don't you sue the architect & project manager for "errors of omission"...malpractice, should it be accurate it was"their fault"?
Ed Canney January 18, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Mel the Swan Pond site DID NOT PERK. How could a School Committee member miss that!? Good luck w/the softball discrimination allegations. Perhaps you would categorize that as a debacle.
Mel Webster January 18, 2013 at 05:11 PM
We are not building a "sports complex," we are building a school.
John Intorcio January 18, 2013 at 05:11 PM
Nice comeback. I'm not advocating for or against lawsuits. My point is that you speak, well, type as if the proper actions are obvious and the SSBC must all be dolts for not seeing them. I happen to think they (or at least some of them) are pretty bright people so I don't think the answers are as obvious as you portray them. Or, if they are, we clearly need your help on the SSBC! Why not get in there and really be helpful rather than just ranting in the media?
Ed Canney January 18, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Again Jeff. If the SSBC truly believes that it was the architect's and/or the project manager's "fault" Then sue them for "errors of omission". Both should have malpractice insurance policies.
Ed Canney January 18, 2013 at 05:40 PM
John, volunteers are great. But at some critical point they have to "get out of the way". Hire the best project management/engineering firm available, and hand the ball off. But at the same time, when mistakes are made, they(SSBC) are accountable. Sadly it comes w/the territory. I thought i gave you a great example...the Library. TA sacked the project manager & the slate roof went south. And as you saw from a previous post a blogger w/ a good memory holds me responsible, because I was on the BOS. Comes w/the territory. But a nice library, don't you think? You may remember, I condemned the "old" library (across the street) for structural failure as building inspector. Caught hell for that also...but comes with job.
MPG January 18, 2013 at 08:09 PM
Mel, I'm sure you are a nice guy and respect your willingness to serve the community. But our elected officials in this town have failed us yet again. I moved here in 1998. Care to guess how much my taxes have gone up since then? I for one have had enough! The well has gone dry. And your brethren in state government now want to raise the income tax another 1%. Not to mention the recent increase in the federal tax rate. Most folks just can't donate anymore. Or should we all move out of town like one of you colleagues on the Board of Selectmen recommended?
Mel Webster January 18, 2013 at 08:58 PM
Clearly the responsibility for the school project rests on the shoulders of elected and appointed board members and clearly seeking more funds for the project will place an added burden on the taxpayer. However, I don't agree that elected officials have "failed" the taxpayers. An estimated cost, developed by the professionals hired to manage the project, was presented to the town a year ago for the vote. As far as I know, all of the elected and appointed officials associated with the project believed that figure, because it came from experienced professionals who have been involved with numerous school construction projects. Now we know that number is too low and we face a difficult situation. The right thing to do is to give the townspeople the option by letting them know what the school will look like if an override is passed, as well as what the school will be without the override. Residents approved the original project and it is only right that they give an up or down vote on spending more money on the project. As for a selectman advocating that residents move out of town, that is not advice that I would give anyone. Not sure what problem that solves.
Barry January 18, 2013 at 09:28 PM
This tirade started by long standing opponents of progress in North Reading is just the latest illustration of why comments should not be allowed on Patch.
MPG January 18, 2013 at 09:45 PM
Please Barry cut the typical liberal BS. "... long standing opponents of progress... is just a euphemism for "What do you mean you don't want to give us more of your hard earned pay to waste"
Ed Canney January 18, 2013 at 10:22 PM
"...opponents of progress in North Reading" HS School renovation, Hood,Little and Batchelder Schools, Library, Police & Fire Station, Hillview Golf Course & Ipswich River Park. Barry did you move to town just last week? Seems so. Or perhaps you feel "deferred maintenance" is progress. You do realize $1M was spent on design for the Swan Pond proposed site for the Batchelder School prior to perk test failures.Maybe perk first? That's what developers do. One might expect skepticism when a project is $12M short before its begun.
Jeff Witts January 18, 2013 at 11:52 PM
North Reading has done a wonderful job addressing its aging infrastructure.The middile school and high school are part of that. Hillview CC and Ipswich River Park were forward thinking ideas that have greatly benefited our town. I feel the senior center shoud be next as they are in a sub-standard facility.
Nick January 19, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Two schools for the price of one and where is it.
Jeff Witts January 19, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Nick, The school project has just started. If you drive by the high school, you will see the trees have been cleared and excavation has begun for the drainage and foundation. That's where it is at the moment. If you want more details, the SSBC meets every Tuesday at 5:30pm.
Ed Canney January 19, 2013 at 04:13 PM
Just a quick bit of cost saving advice. Concrete.poured foundations have to be kept @ 50 degrees for 5 days.(just covering won't suffice) So you may want to wait 'till Spring to pour, sans covering and supplying a heat source for 5 days. Same w/the excavation, can't be allowed to freeze.
Ed Canney January 19, 2013 at 07:27 PM
"North Reading SSBC Plans Special Election and Town Meeting..." Thought the Selectman made those decisions. Who exactly is in charge these days?
Joe Veno January 20, 2013 at 12:45 AM
MPG, Who is the Selectman that said people should move out of town?
Kris January 24, 2013 at 06:36 PM
I just read through all these comments. I find it rather surprising that no one has mentioned the destruction of the forest behind Tower Hill Road and School Hill Lane, right up to the property lines, leaving not one tree or stick between residents and the parking lot, all to save money on dirt removal, which by the way was never discussed with abutters. This is a HUGE deal going on right now, that no one seems to notice. Hmmmmmm.....
Ed Canney January 25, 2013 at 05:43 PM
I have Kris...in a post regarding the architect's performance: "Yes its always a dilemma to change a contractor or architect. But sometimes after assessing their performance, it can be the prudent path. The architect's back & forth w/ the CPC about lot clearing is really a concern. Why would he request from the CPC, tree cutting to the abutters' lots, when the abutters were told that would never happen...a buffer zone would be left. And then go ahead & do the clearing, when he only had permission to clear for the foundation footprint. With any construction project, it always best to keep the neighbors happy! An architect of all people should prioritize that policy." As to the mounds of excavated soil they supposedly were to remove, Kris. You never take away excavated soil, its kept for regrading. So that excuse is a bit tongue & cheek. Why would you remove excavated soil...and then purchase soil to grade? Never heard of it.

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