Fairfield: Board of Selectmen approves increase for Mill Hill Elementary project

Mill Hill Elementary School 635 Mill Hill Terrace in Southport, Conn. on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013.

Mill Hill Elementary School 635 Mill Hill Terrace in Southport, Conn. on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013.

Cathy Zuraw / Cathy Zuraw

FAIRFIELD — The Board of Selectmen approved a $1,274,900 increase in spending of the Mill Hill Elementary School project.

Tom Quinn, the chairman of the Mill Hill School Building Committee, said specialists came in during the second phase of the project and concluded that the cost will be higher than the original schematics projected.

“What we have found out is that the unforeseen issues on this school were significant,” Quinn said. “Primarily, we went from a $22 million (estimated cost) to what we are recommending, $23,275,500.”

Interest in renovating the 60-year-old building started coming to fruition more than two years ago. The committee, formed in July of 2018, started the process of renovation last August, with plans to go out to bid in December.

Quinn said the difference in cost is made up of external work and work inside the school.

The site work outside included increasing the storm water retention capacity and bolstering the soil so the buildings do not sink. It is estimated to cost $530,000.

The work inside the school, in part, consisted of putting in an HVAC system, installing acoustical dampening equipment and electrical work. Quinn said that has been estimated to cost $745,000.

Quinn, who has chaired the committee of two other school building committees, said he wanted to dispel rumors that the increase in cost meant they wanted to expand the capacity size for the school from 441 to 504. The student capacity of the school became a contentious topic during the approval process.

“Even if we did the 504, and we aren’t, we still would have needed needed an increase from what they would have given,” said Quinn.

The BOS voted on their Feb. 3 to hear and consider the committee’s presentation that day but to postpone the vote to its Feb. 10 meeting.

Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz said the board took the decision very seriously but wanted more details and time to consider them. She said one of the main questions she had answered over the week in between the meetings was why the committee decided not to use funding from its $1.2 million contingency.

Quinn said the project would be in trouble in later on if they used the money from the contingency to solve the current problems. He said during the Holland Hill School and Riverfield School projects they used approximately $800,000 of their contingency funds.

“This particular piece of property has already given us enough issues,” said Quinn. “We want to maintain a higher contingency. If you use the contingency now, the project will take another three years, because every time we need money we’d have to come back and stop construction.”

Selectman Thomas Flynn asked Quinn if he felt the contingency would be enough to cover any problems that arise over the building process. Quinn said he believes it will.

Flynn also pointed out that the town was warned that renovations at the school would be problematic when work was done on the Holland Hill School.

“It was known, or thought, all along that this particular topography and location for a school was going to be a challenge,” said Flynn. “The fact that there’s unforeseen things happening at that school... that was a worry or concern four years ago.”