This time, the selectmen focused on how expensive and unnecessary elements had been added to the $3.95 million renovation of the Fern Street school. They also heard updates on construction problems that include a sloping and bubbling floor and a wall and windows that didn't align.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau renewed his criticism of a $3,940 mechanical "drop-down screen" for visual arts that has been added to a conference room, saying the screen was placed over a white wall which essentially could have served the same purpose for projected images. "I'm confused about how the screen got designed in and who signed off on it," Tetreau said to Richard Speciale, chairman of the building committee overseeing the school renovation.
"How in the world did we put it in? Was this just an architect that ran amok?" Tetreau said. "Right behind the screen is a white wall. It's like salt in the wounds. Right behind the screen is a white wall."
Former Selectman James Walsh said the drop-down screen is similar to what is found in meeting rooms at Fortune 100 companies. "This is just like the government with the $5,000 toilet seat," he said.
Tetreau said he was told the drop-down screen was included in construction drawings, but said the average person "isn't going to see that screen on a blueprint."
"We could just keep a blank wall that would cost us nothing," Tetreau said. "I expect the professionals, like the architect, not to add $3,000 into a project that's not necessary."
Speciale indicated it might be better to leave the drop-down screen in place, saying it would cost $3,000 to remove it.
Speciale said a representative of Wiles and Associates Architects in Bridgeport wasn't available to attend Thursday's meeting and that the building committee wasn't in the loop on some conversations regarding the renovation. "I was told there were 49 emails just regarding the furniture," he said.
Speciale added that he wasn't "totally familiar" with educational specifications for Sherman's renovation, but Tetreau said there were no educational specifications and that "technically puts everything on the building committee."
Selectman Kevin Kiley asked what the chain of communication among officials was on the Sherman project.
Speciale said typically an idea would be presented to the architect and that would result in a "change order" that the building committee would review and decide if they wanted to spend money on it. Some of the ideas, for instance, he said could come from staff at Sherman School.
But Tetreau questioned whether the architect had broken that chain of communication. "The questions we have are about the design, how the architect interferes with the design and with the building committee," he said. "If you're never told about a decision, there's no way for you to advise on it."
Tetreau said he wanted the building committee report back to the Board of Selectmen on how to improve the process. He said there are renovations in the works for Riverfield School, and he wants to avoid the problems with the Sherman project when tackling the Riverfield job. "We definitely want to use what we learned here for Riverfield and for the Warde roof project," he said, referring to a four-year project to replace roofs at Fairfield Warde High School.
Earlier, Tetreau questioned what the solution was, offering ideas that included not hiring the architect again, changing the charge of the building committee and requiring the building committee to sign off on all the work at the school.
Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey said, "Whatever the communication flow is, I hope it's clear and known to all parties ... In the end, it's the building committee that has to watch the purse."
Walsh said Connecticut General Statutes were clear in saying that the buck stops with the building committee. "Decisions are not made by the architect, principals or the Board of Education. It is the building committee that makes the final decision," he said.
Pam Iacono, chairwoman of the Board of Education and a former building committee member, said she was "never privy" to emails about furniture and the drop-down screen. "There may have been discussions with central office, but not with the Board of Education," she said.
Iacono added that she is angered and frustrated about items being added to the renovation without the building committee knowing about it.
Meanwhile, Speciale said a hallway floor had been ripped up Thursday because concrete had been applied to tiles too quickly, resulting in an improper bond that caused bubbles and a slope. "The contractor had a good deal of it pulled up today, and we'll monitor it so we have as near a level floor as possible," he said, adding that there was "no charge" for the repair.
Tetreau pointed out that walls in a conference room didn't align with windows, and Speciale said plastic had been applied to the gaps, though he added that the plastic isn't soundproof. "The architect is going to have to come back with something that's going to satisfy the staff," he said.
Tetreau replied, "That's the kind of thing, when you're just looking at drawings, you're not going to catch. I wish the architect were here to talk for himself." Walsh said a representative of the architectural firm had said the positioning of a phone right below the drop-down screen was a building code requirement. But Walsh said he had checked with Town Building Official James Gilleran, who disagreed.
On the bright side, Speciale said structural steel had been inspected and accepted, and the last of known asbestos in the school was removed last weekend. He said the first two "energy recovery vents" are complete and that the third is 80 percent complete and scheduled for inspection July 18.
Speciale said the renovation project as of Thursday was under budget, but couldn't guarantee it would remain under budget.
The cost of Sherman's renovation is especially important because of Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations that say if the cost of a renovation to a structure in a flood zone exceeds 50 percent of the structure's appraised value, then the structure has to comply with current FEMA elevations, which would result in a far greater cost.
"We have a FEMA requirement for what we can spend down there," Walsh said, adding that Speciale ought to review outstanding invoices with town finance officials, along with "work still to happen but not approved."
"That building does not look finished and this community deserves for it to be finished," Walsh said.