The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 22, 2010

State raises Carlisle School building project aid offer to $7 million

At a joint meeting on January 14, town and school officials agreed to accept a preliminary state offer of a 40% reimbursement rate for approved costs in the proposed Carlisle School building project. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) approved $17.5 million out of $20 million in total project costs, for a total grant of $7 million (see Table 1 below). The town’s share of the proposed school building project will be $13 million, compared to $12 million if MSBA had approved all project costs.

However, this came a day after MSBA agreed to revise an even lower calculation of approved costs. (See “State aid offer for Carlisle School building project lower than hoped,” in last week’s issue.)

At the joint meeting, members of the Board of Selectmen (BOS), Carlisle School Committee (CSC), and Carlisle School Building Committee (SBC) discussed how to respond to the state’s preliminary offer. They decided to ask MSBA to reconsider one or two ineligible costs prior to the MSBA’s board meeting on January 27 when the aid offer will be finalized. Once the MSBA board formally votes project approval, Carlisle will have 120 days in which to hold a Town Meeting to accept the funding.

The building project includes construction of a replacement for the Spalding Building and renovations to existing school buildings up to a $20 million spending target.

Why were some costs ineligible?

SBC Chair Lee Storrs gave a summary of the January 13 meeting with MSBA and the project reimbursement offer. Carlisle’s Owner Project Manager Sean Fennell summarized the list of ineligible components (see Table 2 below). The largest deduction was due to a difference in per-square-foot building cost estimates. MSBA estimated the construction cost at $275 per square foot, roughly $27 per square foot less than the SBC’s estimates. This resulted in a cost difference of $785,889. However, construction bids may come in lower than Fennell’s estimate of $302 per square foot, Fennell added.

Arthur Duffy, of the schematic design firm HMFH, said the MSBA depends on a reimbursement formula “which is derived from new school building projects.” Because the Carlisle project is smaller in scale and includes renovations, “you are penalized by not spending a lot,” he said. “The building formula doesn’t allow for that reality,” he added.

The second largest component of the ineligible costs resulted from creation of unapproved spaces such as administration offices and new second grade classrooms, Fennell said. The project will move second grade classes from the Robbins Building into the new building, with a goal of grouping grades preK - 2 in a single building. Plans call for the conversion of three grade 2 classrooms in Robbins into a large multi-purpose/choral room.

The feasibility study reimbursement of $75,000 was not included in the grant total, but Fennell said he was “confident we will see the $75,000 reimbursement in the next version” of the grant.

Revisit project scope?

The committee members discussed reviewing items ineligible for reimbursement and considered moving items to an “alternate build” list, to be included only if bids came in lower than expected. Storrs suggested items such as a canopy or stone work might be deferred. On the other hand, he pointed out that roughly $400,000 for a digital upgrade to the HVAC controls for the existing buildings was not included in the MSBA reimbursement. It was not included in the original scope, but had been under consideration for addition to the project. “The committee was trying to take care of a lot of issues for the next 20 years,” he explained, “but that one didn’t make it.”

Selectman Doug Stevenson wondered if the $400,000 could be added as an alternative on the MSBA form, and Storrs suggested that it could then be dropped if extra funds are not available. Fennell pointed out that adding the additional funds would raise the total cost of the project to $20.4 million, which would require the town to vote on that figure whether or not the digital HVAC system was built.

BOS Chair Tim Hult expressed concern about raising the project cost. “I have felt good that we have held it to $20 million,” he said, adding, “I have a little bit of trepidation if we increase the amount. My inclination is to keep it at $20 million.”

The members discussed whether passing a motion to accept the MSBA’s grant would hinder Fennell’s ability to negotiate further increases in the grant. On the other hand, Hult suggested proceeding since it would be difficult to gather the three committees together for another joint meeting in the next few days. Storrs asked for a motion to recommend to the Selectmen that they accept the MSBA offer of at least $7,008,404 as presented by Fennell, with an understanding that the grant may increase. The motion carried.

Hult thanked the SBC members for their work. “This is a critical project for the town,” he said, “and we thank you thus far for the effort. There are still many laps in this race,” he added. ∆

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