First Selectman Melissa Mack and the Board of Selectmen hosted a three board meeting that included the members of the Board of Finance and the Permanent Building Commission (PBC) on Monday, September 26. A dozen town employees and contractors were also present. The meeting room at the Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association was filled to overflowing with the three boards plus more than thirty members of the public present (plus some who listened from the hallway).
The purpose for the meeting was to update everyone on the status of the town’s major capital projects – Kent Memorial Library renovations, Bridge Street School conversion to a community center, renovation of Town Hall, the status of road paving projects, and a review of timing and plans for bonding for the projects.
Director of Finance Deborah Cerrato distributed a summary of expenses for renovations at Kent Memorial Library since the town voted down an $8.4 million proposal for a new library in 2011 that would have doubled the size of the library. The town has spent $5,779,009 so far, including the roof repairs in 2012 and 2013. Of that total, about $1.8m has come from private donations.
First Selectman Mack noted that because of the hazardous materials found during the renovations, it seemed pretty clear that some additional funds would be required. By the end of the year, the town expects to have final reports and quotes on what needs to be done to clean up the problems found. The current rough estimate is that the work would be completed by April-June 2017 and might cost several hundred thousand dollars. PBC chairman Joe Sangiovanni noted that the hazmat remediation has to be submitted and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in Boston. First Selectman Mack said that she has been in touch with the State of Connecticut and there is a possibility of an Emergency Urban Act Grant to help with the additional expense.
PBC chairman Sangiovanni then discussed estimates for the Bridge Street School Community Center and Town Hall renovations. Before proceeding with either project, the PBC wanted an update to the estimates provided before the referendum vote last year. The PBC put out a bid to construction managers for costs reflecting current industry pricing. He also noted the limited scope of the approved plans for Town Hall covered heating and air conditioning replacement, some electrical work, minor office relocations, and an enlarged vault for the Town Clerk. Gilbane Construction was hired to provide the estimates.
The Town Hall renovation discussion was more complex. The project approved by voters for $5.13 million last year was described by First Selectman Mack as being very limited and would not solve a number of problems identified over the years. The new estimate for the bare bones project was $6.3 million. Gilbane project manager Eric Cushman circulated estimates for the Town Hall renovations based on the additional work being proposed and the preliminary total was $8.7 million. The additional work involved consolidating the town offices for the Building Department, Town Engineer, Public Works, Conservation, and Planning and Zoning back to the Town Hall. It would also include an expanded addition plus a larger meeting room.
First Selectman Mack said she was working with staff to revise the plan and reduce the additional cost but believed the final number would require additional funding. She stated that she is urging a longer term solution to town office needs, not one that will require more work in five years. Board of Finance member Brian Kost worried that the current estimate is nearly twice that of the original one. BoF chairman Justin Donnelly asked about hazmat issues. The town has bids for abatement of about $150,000. Selectman Mel Chafetz noted that this project carries a higher than usual contingency (20%) as a result of lessons learned in the library renovation.
Bond Counsel Sandra Dawson answered a number of questions on how the town might handle a revised Town Hall project. BoF member Kost said that he was skeptical that taxpayers would approve additional funding. First Selectman Mack said that one reason for the increase is the plan to use the “construction management at risk” model for contracting, which costs more initially but limits the exposure to the town for extra costs. She said that the plan approved last year “won’t meet the town’s long term needs and the end result will be spending too much money and being disappointed in the end result.” The next step will be to finalize the design, get an updated quote and see what the financial options are at that point.
Mr. Cushman also provided cost estimates for the Bridge Street School renovation. This included hazmat removal and some additional soft costs. The town approved an $8.4 million project and this estimate came in at $9.9m. Several people noted that value engineering would reduce some of the estimated costs and that it seemed possible to meet the amount approved by voters last year. The PBC and Public Works staff will be working on an RFP for a construction manager to handle the Bridge Street and Town Hall projects, with an expectation they will have final plans ready to go by the end of the year.
Town Engineer Gerry Turbet updated the group on progress on road upgrades, with 16 miles completed and 2.5 miles to go this year. He said he was on target to utilize the $9 million approved by voters over the next three years.
The last item was a question of timing for bonding. Bond consultant Matt Spoerndle of Phoenix Advisors said the town’s bond rating was reapproved, the interest rate for bonds is under 2.5%, and the safest thing for the town would be to go out to bond now for an amount to cover the road projects as a start, and maybe include some amount for hazmat removal. First Selectman Mack will get together with Town Treasurer Christine Davidson and Board of Finance chairman Justin Donnelly to get the process moving.