The Board of Selectmen has approved an extra $1.86 million for the renovation and expansion of Riverfield School in order to rid PCBs from the school's gymnasium.
The selectmen's 2-0 vote Wednesday brought the total cost of the project at the Mill Plain Road elementary school to $16.35 million. Selectman Kevin Kiley was absent from the meeting because of what First Selectman Michael Tetreau said was an emergency, but Tetreau said Kiley relayed his support for the additional funding.
"Kevin Kiley made the effort to say he fully supports this project and the Riverfield community," Tetreau said.
Tom Quinn, chairman of the Riverfield School Building Committee, said his committee initially planned to expand the school's gymnasium by knocking down a wall but testing on the wall revealed the presence of PCBs. Quinn said his committee alerted the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which said PCBs in the gym, though encapsulated, had to be removed within 10 years.
After the meeting, Quinn said testing wasn't done on the other three walls because they all were built around the same time and of the same material so PCBs likely are found there as well.
Quinn told the Board of Selectmen that it didn't make sense to wait to get rid of the PCBs because the cost would only increase if the job were done later. "By combining and dovetailing it with what we're doing now, we save a significant amount of money," Quinn said. "It's the most efficient and effective way of handling it."
Quinn estimated that the cost would rise to $3.5 million if the town waited the full 10 years.
Tetreau agreed with Quinn. "The bottom line is PCBs are in the building and the EPA is not going to allow them to stay there," the first selectman said. "The concern is if we delay, the cost will increase faster than the rate of inflation."
Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey said, "This is one of those things we have to deal with and I believe it's responsible for us to deal with it now."
Quinn said all the gymnasium walls would be demolished, as well as the roof, which he said after the meeting had only eight years of useful life left. He said the gym's steel skeleton and girders would remain.
Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said a closed-door meeting was planned with the selectmen Wednesday afternoon because Riverfield's renovation and expansion couldn't move forward until a consent order from the EPA to get rid of the PCBs was agreed to. "This needs to be done," Lesser said of the consent order. "It will hold up the project otherwise."
Peter Manning, the project's construction manager, said the timeline on the renovation had "slipped, purely as a result of the EPA approval." The committee had planned to start work on Riverfield this summer but the start was now scheduled for October, Manning said. The project originally was supposed to be finished before school opened in the fall of 2015 but now was projected to be done in January 2016. Manning said the gym should be done before the overall project is done.
The $1.86 million in extra funding also requires approval from the town's Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting.
Quinn said he met with the school district's Central Office Tuesday night to make adjustments to its long-range financial plan that prioritizes spending by the town on school capital projects.
Brenda Anziano, Riverfield's principal, thanked the selectmen before their vote for indicating support for the extra funding. "That's going to help head off a lot of panic," she said.
Riverfield isn't the only elementary school where town officials found PCBs during the start of a renovation. The same thing happened at Osborn Hill School a few years ago.
Riverfield's expansion and renovation involves construction of seven full-size classrooms that would replace portable classrooms and interior classrooms, adding a second serving line in the cafeteria, expanding the gym and renovating administrative office space. The school was expected to have a net gain of an additional classroom once the project is done.