Officials consider ways to better manage town project costs, efficiency

In an effort to avoid unexpected -- and expensive -- issues over the course of a town building project, officials are considering creating the post of an
In an effort to avoid unexpected -- and expensive -- issues over the course of a town building project, officials are considering creating the post of an "owner's representative" to better manage multi-million-dollar undertakings such as school additions/renovations or repairs to structures like Penfield Pavilion.File photo / File photo

It has happened more often than not — the town funds a building project based on an estimate for a conceptual design and then seeks bids on the work, only to have the bids come in over the anticipated costs.

Or over the course of a project something unexpected arises, such as PCBs found in school buildings, and the building committee is back before town bodies, asking for more money leaving officials and taxpayers alike frustrated and angry.

After last month’s Board of Finance meeting, where another $1.4 million was added to the Penfield Pavilion project, Chairman Thomas Flynn suggested that it might time to at least discuss hiring a new municipal employee whose job it would be to act as a sort of “owner’s rep” on town projects.

“Given recent history with projects, and depending on the pipeline of capital projects to come, it is appropriate for the town to explore all options — including an owner’s representative or like position” Flynn said, whose sole responsibility is to work with building committees and the town’s administration.

The idea, he said, is to ensure appropriate initial project costs, appropriate day-to-day project management, appropriate and accurate reporting to town bodes and, “most important, that the projects are managed in such a way to ensure taxpayers get exactly what they were paying for in the time frame that is expected, to the best of our abilities.”

“We are trying to learn from past projects,” First Selectman Michael Tetreau said. “The challenge with adding personnel can be both a well-defined scope of work and well-defined skill set requirements.”

He said Flynn’s idea is one that has been discussed previously by officials.

“Currently, I am working on an RFP for an owner’s representative who would work for the town across multiple projects, rather than be hired by each building committee,” Tetreau said, an idea discussed briefly by the Board of Selectmen at a meeting last fall.

Such an approach, Tetreau said, would allow the town to keep an experienced person working on multiple projects who not only knows the town’s needs, but the reporting requirements of various town boards. It would also, he said, help building committees get up to speed more quickly.

“This functional role would be paid for by each building committee as it is now,” Tetreau said. “Once we have the approach defined in more detail, I would look to get it reviewed by key stakeholders like Mr. Flynn to get their feedback.”

Flynn said he is “open to all options” to ensure the town’s money is spent efficiently and effectively, and within the approved project’s scope and budget.

With the Board of Education looking to expand and renovate Holland Hill School, Superintendent of Schools David Title has proposed a capital expenditure of $1.24 million to cover the cost of architectural design, engineering and environmental testing, as well as leasing of two temporary classrooms during construction.

Title said the idea of a larger amount of “seed money” for the project is to have a better cost estimate when the building committee seeks full funding for the work.