The Riverfield School Building Committee voted Tuesday night to set the new budget for the proposed renovation of the school at $15.152 million.
The committee's 6-1 vote came about two and a half months after the Board of Selectmen expressed surprise at a slightly lower price tag for the project at the Mill Plain Road elementary school, with First Selectman Michael Tetreau describing the $15 million projected cost at the time as "a certain sticker shock."
"The chairman will approach the [first] selectman with the plan for $15.152 million and attempt to get that on the Board of Selectmen's agenda," said Thomas Quinn, the building committee's chairman, toward the end of the meeting in Riverfield's library. Quinn said he would try to get the funding request on a Board of Selectmen agenda later this month.
Earlier, Marc Sklenka, director of project management at Strategic Building Solutions in Old Saybrook, identified seven potential deductions totaling $1.692 million in the project. But those potential deductions were from a projected $16 million in overall expenditures because the committee in February decided to go with an alternate design and restore some work that had been cut.
The building committee voted to accept five deductions mentioned by Sklenka Tuesday night that totaled $825,105. Those five include: deleting construction of a site retaining wall ($96,774); reducing the amount of tile in bathrooms to a height of four feet, with paint above the tile ($41,696); deleting a gym platform ($60,955); deleting courtyard pavers ($125,680), and beginning the project earlier than originally planned, which was estimated to save $500,000 in inflation costs.
The two potential deductions that the committee did not approve were removal of air conditioning in all but the library and administration area, which would have saved $775,446, and not replacing existing light fixtures, which would have saved $91,495.
"I want the light fixtures included and the air conditioning," said Christine Messina, vice chairman of the building committee.
Quinn suggested earlier that the air conditioning be identified as an "add alternate," which town boards could tack onto the project. "I don't want to jeopardize the project. I would rather present it as $14.2 million with an add-on for air conditioning," he said.
Quinn wasn't inflexible, saying, "We're going to have a $14 million plan and no air conditioning, or a $15 million plan and have what we wanted in the first place, which included air conditioning."
Sal Morabito, the school district's manager of construction, security and safety, said starting the project early would be possible, but reimbursements from the state would be delayed. "It's a lag ... It's much longer before you get your first dollar back," he said.
Documents reviewed by the building committee identified the early start as June 2014, pending approval from the state's Bureau of School Facilities.
Committee member Lawrence Ratner asked if the town would be at risk due to potential cuts in state aid, and Morabito replied, "Is there a risk? Yes. Has it ever happened? No."
Morabito said he heard more in previous years about potential cuts in state aid for school construction projects than he's heard this year.
Morabito said the town had started the renovation and expansion of Fairfield Woods Middle School early.
"We're not breaking new ground," Quinn said.
Dorothy Domeika, a committee member, said she felt uncomfortable supporting a budget when two construction estimates were so different. The biggest difference resulted from inflation, with Gilbane Building Co., the construction manager, pricing it at $1 million and Professional Construction Services Inc. pricing it at $368,200.
Ratner said, "It's an estimating process, emphasis on the word `estimating.' " The discrepancy was resolved by taking the average of the two estimates.
Domeika cast the lone vote opposing the budget of $15.152 million.
Though the budget approved Tuesday night was reduced by $825,105, it's still slightly higher than the budget presented to the Board of Selectmen on Dec. 20 because the building committee in February went with an alternate design and restored work that had been removed in value engineering.
Quinn said one of the biggest elements restored at that time include expanding the kitchen so Riverfield would have two serving lines, similar to Roger Sherman School, which would give students more time to eat lunch. "Everyone wanted the kitchen expanded so it would be two lanes," he said.
The project also calls for 16 new classrooms, although it would only be a net gain of 6 additional classrooms. The plan is to demolish the so-called "pod" at one of the school and replace it with a 2-story classroom addition. Other elements of the project include adding space to the gym, moving the stage from the all purpose room to the gym and enclosing the existing overhand and reworking the front entry.
At the beginning of the meeting, Quinn said the Riverfield project was going to cost from $14 million to $15 million. "That's what it is. We've looked at every conceivable alternative. We have what we have," he said. "This is not any type of jousting ... This is the best estimate we've been able to come up with."