Why Is the North Reading School Building Project Over Budget?

At a public information session Tuesday, the SSBC explained why the school building project needs additional funds.

Members of the North Reading School Committee and Secondary Schools Building Committee (SSBC) as well as representatives from PMA Consultants (project manager), Gilbane Building Company (construction manager) and Dore and Whittier (architect) were present Tuesday night at North Reading High School to explain to residents why the school building project needs additional funding.

When first presented, the original project budget of $107.7 million was split into two parts: $86.5 million was the construction cost estimate and $21.2 million was for professional services, contingencies, furniture, fixtures and technology. According to Selectmen Chairman Sean Delaney, the $86.5 million construction cost estimate was wrong. 

The original estimate

Chris Carroll from PMA Consultants explained that they developed the early estimates based on a schematic design. They took the early schematic drawings, looked at the programming and market conditions and developed both the total and cost per square foot estimate. 

PMA estimated the original $87.5 million construction cost estimate and the architect estimated $91.5 million, according to Carroll.

When estimating the cost per square foot, PMA initially estimated $326 per square foot and the architect estimated $342 per square foot. PMA then looked at six other projects they were working on and "pushed to have" a $322 per square foot budget, which was on the higher end compared to their other projects, he said.

"We felt it was a reasonable target," Carroll explained.

PMA also considered how much the MSBA would reimburse, given that they only reimburse for certain elements of the project.

Taking all of these factors into account, PMA put forth a budget value of $86.4 million for the construction costs, Carroll said.

Project challenges

There were significant "project challenges" Carroll explained at the meeting. Market conditions ramped up more than projected in the estimates and there are also site challenges due to the hill, wetlands and soil issues, he said.

"What we are running up against is that our estimate that was developed back in the schematic phase undervalued the project," he said.

The project is coming in higher than the forecast, Carroll explained.

Value engineering

Value engineering is required by the MSBA to maintain the budget and removes items from the budget. During Phase One of the value engineering process the committees involved reviewed and revised the design materials to reduce costs and removed or changed items to meet the construction budget without impacting the educational program or square footage of the building, Delaney explained.

During Phase Two of the process, the committees identified items that will need to be removed from the budget if they are not able to secure additional funding. The following items were listed in alphabetical order during a presentation at the meeting:

  • Audio visual equipment (projections screens, televisions, etc.)
  • Colored concrete (Pavilion)
  • Concrete seat walls
  • District office
  • Granite curbing
  • Gym divider curtain (divides gym into separate instructional spaces)
  • Marker and track boards (white boards and bulletin boards)
  • Motor for basketball hoops 
  • Plantings (partial)
  • Rubber fitness flooring
  • Rubber stair treads
  • Stage curtain/rigging
  • Stage lighting
  • Stage pit filter
  • Team room building at the Athletic Field
  • Tennis courts
  • Traffic Light (at the end of the access road)
  • Vinyl tile flooring
  • Unit Pavers (Pavilion)

School Committee member Gerry Venezia stressed that all of the committees involved worked hard to stay within budget, despite the incorrect estimate and project challenges, but they felt an obligation to involve the community given that they need additional funds to complete the project the way they had described it last year. That is why a Special Town Meeting and Special Election is necessary.

Resident questions

A resident was concerned about the safety of children if items like rubber stair treads are eliminated from the budget.

"Does that mean our kids are in jeopardy of falling down the stairs if we don't get more money?" she asked.

"I'm not going to say the kids will be slipping down the stairs," Venezia said.

He also noted that it was difficult to choose which items to include in the list.

Another resident mentioned that he asked the SSBC last year if there was enough money in the budget to complete the project and the SSBC ensured him that there was. He was also concerned that the town was going to ask the community for additional funds again in the future.

According to Delaney, the SSBC believed that they were given an accurate estimate, which is why they ensured residents that the budget was sufficient. Delaney admitted that he said last year that they would not come back to the town for a dime, and he meant that then. Both Delaney and the committees involved thought they were given an accurate estimate, unfortunately, it was wrong, he said.

To address the residents concern about asking for more money a third time, Delaney read the definition of the GMP and said that it should provide some assurance that they will not be asking for additional funds again in the future. 

The resident also asked if PMA could be held accountable for giving an incorrect estimate.

Delaney explained that the SSBC "has engaged" both PMA and Dore and Whittier in discussions regarding the wrong estimate and "that is ongoing."

The town is pursuing any and all avenues, he said, and Town Counsel is aware of the situation.

Next Steps

The project is moving forward because delays could cost thousands of dollars and would also affect the phasing of the project, Venezia said. There are two additional meetings for the public, one on February 28 and another on March 14. In February, the committees hope to provide a range of how much money they may need to ask for, Delaney said. On March 14, the final Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) will be available.

According to a pamphlet handed out at the meeting, "The GMP is the amount that the Construction Manager at-Risk guarantees the project construction cost will not exceed. The GMP includes the cost of work, plus contingency, the CM's General Conditions and Fee."

Residents will be able to vote for an override at Special Town Meeting on March 18 at 7 p.m. and Special Election on March 22.

Click here for complete school building project coverage.

John Intorcio February 01, 2013 at 06:29 PM
>>> But there was no public comment allowed. Ed - That's just not true. You're making stuff up a again! I went to the meeting. I made a comment. Several others did as well. One gentleman, a Mr. Burke I believe, did arrive with a list of twenty-some questions and, in the interest of allowing others to have their say as well, he was asked to share his list and promised a response.
Mel Webster February 01, 2013 at 06:41 PM
Ed -- There was more than an hour of public comment at the meeting. There were at least 13 residents who got up and asked questions or made statements. The questions that were being posed by the first gentleman who was called on were not germane to the meeting. They are questions that were answered more than a year ago prior to the project going to town meeting and the ballot.
E February 01, 2013 at 06:45 PM
Ok gentlemen....Time to lighten up. A Preist...a Rabbi and a Selectman walk into a bar....Can anyone finish this joke? Anyone??? Buehler....Buehler......... Joe Veno? Where is Joe Veno? Oh...on another post talking trash can usage. E
Mel Webster February 01, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Ed, the high school "renovation" was a band-aid, as I have noted elsewhere here. Second, the electricity went out a couple of years ago at the high school musical when they turned on the lights right before the start of the show. No one knew this was going to happen, and it is simply a symptom of the problem with the electrical system at the high school being maxed out. And again, there HAS NOT BEEN A LACK OF MAINTENANCE. As I have posted elsewhere on these pages, the MSBA awarded North Reading and additional 2 percent in reimbursement for the school project because of how well Wayne Hardacker and his staff has maintained these buildings. Ed, your continued posting of misleading and inaccurate information is a disservice to the entire community. Why do you continue to either ignore or misstate the facts?
JIM February 01, 2013 at 06:56 PM
John Intorcio February 01, 2013 at 06:58 PM
Jessica February 02, 2013 at 01:02 AM
E February 02, 2013 at 03:54 AM
I was expecting more than a hehe...but thanks Jessica. Now back to the trash discussion....Joe.....Joe??? E
Ed Canney February 02, 2013 at 02:30 PM
The "deferred maintenance", Mr Prisco absolutely was a blind eye and as a selectman, you should have raised concerns. You may have noticed that we have had several members on the School Committee for many years that you could have addressed your "Blind Eye" concerns with. When Jerry Venezia was a Selectman w/me we attempted to have School maintenance done by the town municipal employees and the municipal budget, because it was obvious that little maintenance was being done. The obvious reason was that in the future the costs for this lack of maintenance would be enormous...and that's just what you are experiencing now. We were successful in having the school employee insurance and payroll done on the "town side" to save duplicating costs, but they fought us on the maintenance. Why have TWO maintenance Supervisors..one municipal and one schools when you can consolidate costs and employees. Perhaps you may want to read some Transcripts from previous years to get your facts straight. The BOS, SC & SSBC unfortunately rushed this project w/out having the numbers, and you have scheduled a Special Town Meeting & Election (on a Friday?!) with out numbers...$10M, 15M, or more(at what interest), what will be the total costs to your constituents?? That should be your concern, not an elaborate defense of mistakes.
Ed Canney February 02, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Do you have any specific numbers you can share, John, in regard to "LET'S DO IT RIGHT!" ? How the additional funding may be bonded? Bonded for how many years? At what interest? How it may affect the property tax rates? "Do it right", can be generic. You may want Corian counter tops in a home...I may want Granite. But if its your money paying for my counter tops..."Do it right" may have a different connotation.
Ed Canney February 02, 2013 at 04:18 PM
Mr. Prisco...last Spring the BOS had a warrant article to take several residential properties by eminent domain adjacent to the HS driveway. It was passed over. Would you know if that issue is still pertinent to the project?
Ed Canney February 02, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Mr. Prisco...last Spring the BOS had a warrant article to take several residential properties by eminent domain adjacent to the HS driveway. It was passed over. Would you know if that issue is still pertinent to the project?
Mel Webster February 02, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Ed - You continue to post lies about the maintenance at the high school, and I will continue to refute you with the facts and the truth. Wayne Hardacker and staff maintain our school buildings as well if not better than any school district in this state. In fact, they do such a tremendous job that the MSBA awarded the town of North Reading 2 additional percentage points of reimbursement for the new high school/middle school project. Why you continue to try to mislead the townspeople on this I don't know. Second, this project was not rushed, as you continue to claim in your posts. This project followed the guidelines of the Mass. School Building Authority as required by law. NOTHING was rushed. As far as the upcoming special election and town meeting, it is being scheduled so as to avoid any delays in the project, which could cost the town an additional $400,000 - $500,000 per month. All of us wish we could have a number sooner, but the plan calls for the guaranteed maximum price to be available on march 11. As I posted earlier, we hope to have a good estimate of the cost at our 2/28 forum. As far as the state of the high school, I have already enumerated a large number of the issues that make the facility completely unsuitable for North Reading students. Again, I plead with you to discontinue posting misleading and false statements about this project. I know that some people think facts are a terrible thing, but it really would help if you paid attention to them.
Ed Canney February 02, 2013 at 04:57 PM
To Mel Webster & Selectman Prisco. The architect advised the CPC that the proposed handicap parking spaces located 200 feet from the main entrance is in compliance with "the code". He is incorrect. The 200 ft requirement is the ADA maximum. However, in Massachusetts we have the Architectural Access Code which supersedes the ADA for public buildings. The relevant section of the Architectural Access Code is : 23.3.1 Accessible parking spaces serving a particular building, facility or temporary event shall be located on the shortest accessible route of travel from adjacent parking to an accessible entrance." So as you can see, 200 feet is not the Massachusetts' requirement. I would appreciate if you could bring that to his attention. Ed Canney
Mel Webster February 02, 2013 at 04:58 PM
Ed -- Just a note that the CPC approved the plan. That said, I will raise this at the SSBC meeting Tuesday night,
Ed Canney February 02, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Lies, Mel! Pretty strong term fella. May I refute your interpretation? First you say there is no rush, but then you say(due to interest costs?, not sure where the $400,000 to $500,000/mo. comes from) there is a $400,000-500,000/monthly cost for delay. Perhaps...maybe.., you didn't have correct numbers last Spring, so we went forward with a bond that (as of today) does not cover the proposed project cost.. In essence you blame those that question the original estimates (that I hope you can agree were "way off") for the mistakes.You, Prisco, Maurceri, O'leary, Delaney told the public last Spring they were good numbers...NO? By the way Mel, $400,000 to $500,000 per month seems quite a stretch. But please don't accuse distractors of "lying". You are the School Committee member that coined the phrase "Deferred Maintenance", not me. A better argument may be a listing of repairs, done on your watch, that were performed at the HS. Being reactionary as a public official is not a good place to be. Notice how Delaney & Gerry Venezia stay away from the fray. I don't condone it, but its far better than accusing a citizen of "lying, to mislead the community" I'm sure your aware that's deformation. I'm am not a public official. Get off the "to mislead the community". You should talk to Gerry & Delaney. Your on shaky ground with that accusation. So get a grip, Mel...and just provide answers, not admonishments.
JIM February 02, 2013 at 06:23 PM
Why did we not have a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) back when we had the original overide vote ?
Ed Canney February 02, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Seems Mel deleted his first reply...that the CPC approved of the plans. I point out the Schools' architect incorrectly provided advice relative to the requirements. Mass. Architectural Code Vs ADA. I don't believe its pick & choose. But Mel's response was he would bring this issue to their attention. But not really accepting of the fact that the information was incorrect (from Mel Webster:"Just a note, the CPC accpected the plan"). So correct vs incorrect information seems not to be a credibility issue.
Mel Webster February 02, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Ed -- I did not delete anything and do not know why that post disappeared. I will repeat, the CPC approved the plan. If they had an issue with the handicapped parking, I assume they could have delayed approval. If the CPC approved it, doesn't that mean that it complies with regulations? That said, I will raise the issue Tuesday night at the SSBC meeting.
JIM February 02, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Why did we not have a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) back when we had the original overide vote ?
John Intorcio February 02, 2013 at 07:29 PM
JIM - The answer to your question is that you can NOT get a guaranteed price early in the design because there are too many unknowns. But you can't proceed with detailed design until you have approval on a budget. So, you make a "preliminary" design, you ESTIMATE (Webster: to judge tentatively or approximately the value, worth, or significance of) a cost, and you get an approval to proceed. Later, when you have a more complete design, you can get a guaranteed price.
John Intorcio February 02, 2013 at 07:29 PM
JIM - The answer to your question is that you can NOT get a guaranteed price early in the design because there are too many unknowns. But you can't proceed with detailed design until you have approval on a budget. So, you make a "preliminary" design, you ESTIMATE (Webster: to judge tentatively or approximately the value, worth, or significance of) a cost, and you get an approval to proceed. Later, when you have a more complete design, you can get a guaranteed price.
John Intorcio February 02, 2013 at 07:30 PM
Dang Ed, you're right again. I give up. Your superior intellect has gotten the best of me.
Mel Webster February 02, 2013 at 07:39 PM
Ed -- the $400,000 - $500,000 a month cost for a delay in the project was given to SSBC by the architect/construction manager/project manager. I will continue to post the facts here in response to the opinions and misstatements made by others, You continue to post that poor maintenance is one of the reasons the high school is in bad condition, and that could not be further from the truth.
JIM February 02, 2013 at 10:11 PM
John Intorcio - Thank You for the snide comment / answer SNIDE (Webster : slyly disparaging : insinuating <snide remarks> ). I also have a dictionary. Are You on the commitee ?
Cirone Family February 08, 2013 at 05:29 PM
I recall a story about a major project going out to bid. After reviewing the bids the job was awarded to a midpoint bidder. The job began and then the bidder informed the project manager that there was a need for more $$$ due to this and that. The project manager informed the developer of the change in costs. The developer's reply, "tell them all to go home, if they cannot stick to their commitment then they will not be doing the job." Job was completed to spec and under budget. Let’s push back and work the North Reading School Building Project as if it's your wallet that is paying the bill. After all it is our bank accounts picking up the tab and there's only so much $$ and patience left so let's move forward together and work within the approved framework of funding. Remember it's a forecast and economies can and will be realized as the project moves forward if together we keep the funding goal as our bottom line. Working together within the override budget and respecting diversity of viewpoints will be our legacy to the younger generations, we can do this within budget if we roll up our sleeves and work together. Our community supports that type of leadership so keep up the good work within the already approved budget. Pax
Ed Canney February 08, 2013 at 06:23 PM
Okay Mel, thanks. I did see your original post. Between you & me, perhaps we can put some civility back into these discussions. I do read all your posts, and while I may disagree, find them informative.
Ed Canney February 08, 2013 at 06:41 PM
I agree Jim, its not necessary. I don't understand why some proponents are so personal w/comments. Personal attacks never further any point of view. Saying you can go to town hall and check criteria from last year's meetings, as I have, is not demeaning to anyone's character. Seems to be a "shout you down" attempt. Not necessary.
Ed Canney February 11, 2013 at 04:32 AM
Any thought to a 1% meals tax w/revenues dedicated to the schools project in addition to a 60-40 tax rate split?
JIM February 13, 2013 at 01:48 PM
John Intorcio - Thank You for the snide comment / answer SNIDE (Webster : slyly disparaging : insinuating <snide remarks> ). I also have a dictionary. Are You on the commitee ?


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