The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 21, 2008

Carlisle School building project cost estimates rise

The Carlisle School Building Committee (SBC) was surprised on November 13 when Project Manager Sean Fennell gave a preliminary estimate of $28 million for the proposed school renovation project, roughly $8 million higher than expected. The committee is working with Fennell to check the numbers and firm up costs. Uncertainties in the project scope and state aid may affect the committee’s ability to proceed with a Special Town Meeting on January 12 when residents will be asked to approve project design costs.

The SBC is also waiting to hear from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) regarding state oversight and support for the project. In a phone interview on November 17, committee chair Lee Storrs said that if he does not hear from the MSBA soon approving the use of the HMFH architectural firm, or receive a commitment on the reimbursement amount, the Special Town Meeting may be postponed. “I have put two calls in to them,” he said, referring to the MSBA, and said they are aware of the SBC’s time constraints.

Cost factors debated

Fennell used a $270 per square foot calculation based on advice from HMFH. The number was challenged as significantly higher than the $230 per square foot that HMFH had mentioned earlier. Fennell also included costs of over $2.5 million to upgrade buildings to current building code and ADA compliance. After meeting with Fennell on November 17 to work on the budget, committee member Bill Fink said Fennell “agrees the costs are high and is in the process of adjusting the numbers and going back to HMFH” for additional information. “He had to go back and rework the numbers,” agreed Storrs. “We are confident we’ll get it back down to $22 million or below, and he is, too,” added Storrs.

The committee received another surprise when Fennell presented HMFH’s initial cost estimate of $595,293 for their “Feasibility/schematic design phase budget.” Storrs, saying the cost was “unanticipated,” noted HMFH’s costs include a feasibility study, but “we are beyond feasibility and should not be in need of a study,” he explained on the phone. He said he expected their fee to be reduced but was not able to give a figure by press time. “We’ve asked them for more detail including man hours and task items, so we can do a more detailed report,” he explained.

Renovations could be a problem

Fennell explained to the committee that whenever total renovations cost 30% or more of the value of a building, the renovations trigger a requirement that the whole building be upgraded to meet current safety and handicapped-accesibility codes. “HMFH feels strongly that we will be into a situation where we have to upgrade,” explained Fennell.

Certain renovations, called “ordinary repairs,” are excluded from this requirement. According to the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board: “If the work done in a 36-month period is more than 30% of the “full and fair cash value” of the building, the entire building must come into compliance. If the work done in any 36-month period is greater than $100,000,” the regulations state, then only the specific area being renovated must be brought into compliance and must also provide a handicapped-accessible entrance and any public telephones, drinking fountains, and restrooms in the building must comply. Fennell said he contacted the Carlisle Assessors office, and learned that the assessment of the school buildings is very low, around $20 a square foot. “You’re opening up a Pandora’s box with this,” said Fink at the SBC meeting. Committee chair Lee Storrs noted the potential for having to bring a whole building into building code and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance “adds a significant additional cost” and suggested the committee may want to eliminate some of the renovations. Approximately 19,000 gross square feet is slated for renovation. The project includes about 31,000 gross square feet of new construction, bringing the educational space total from 109,080 to 140,460 gross square feet.

Fink later said he believed HMFH misunderstood the amount of renovations being planned. “Our intent is not to remodel the entire campus,” explained Fink, but instead to do “light remodeling.” Storrs agreed. “The basic premise,” Storrs said in a phone conversation, “is not to do renovations to the extent that we have to get involved in the 30%” threshold. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito