Where We’ve Been. Where We’re Going. Nowhere?

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As many of our readers know, a Town referendum was held in October 2015 asking the town to vote to “appropriate $8.4 million for renovations and improvements to Bridge Street School for conversion to a town community center.” The referendum passed. The following compilation of events describe the movement towards building a community center at Bridge Street School, compiled primarily through minutes of the Permanent Building Commission (PBC).

On November 19, 2015, Permanent Building Commission (PBC) chair Joe Sangiovani indicated that he “spoke with both the current and past selectmen. They both agreed to loan us money to start the projects.” There was concern about abatement costs; PBC minutes state “For the Bridge Street School project, it was clarified that we can borrow against the bond to begin preliminary work.” (2/11/16)

Abatement studies were completed by March 17, 2016, and then discussed in the March, April and May PBC meetings of 2016. Highlights of the discussions include:

a. “Contamination s mostly asbestos. Even if the town abandons the project, the Town is legally bound to remediate the building before a demolition could take place.” (4/7/18 minutes)

b. Abatement costs originally came in at $2 million (3/17/16), but this was later revised. The bid for abatement for the building was decreased by a large number because the reported square footage of the soil in the basement was decreased and the entire slate roof was eliminated from the estimate, as it doesn’t need abatement. (07/7/16) making the abatement costs closer to $350,000.

The PBC voted to have a structural analysis of the building done (5/5/16). “The good news is that the structural foundation is in good condition.” (5/19/16)

The project then went forward to bids. Chairman Sangiovanni discussed his conversation with the First Selectman, deciding there should be a formal bid process to obtain a more detailed construction estimate on the Bridge Street School and Town Hall Projects. The Request for Proposals (RFP) went out in late July with a mandatory walkthrough in August, with final bids due back on August 18 and the results discussed at the following PBC meeting. (8/21/16)

The initial conceptual estimate for renovation and addition came to just under $10 million. Hard costs were lower and soft costs higher with a 20% contingency. (9/22/16) There were discussions about value engineering to keep the project within scope of bond.

At this point the PBC was ready to go out with RFPs for the architect and a Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) (10/16/16) The First Selectman questioned where money would come from for the value engineering.

Work on RFP for both the architect and the CMR at Risk took ten months partly because the  CMR method of managing a project is new to Suffield. Between October 2016 and July 2017, RFPs were created by PBC and the Department of Public Works and sent to the Town attorney for legal review. “Once we know that the $8.4 million is adequate, the bond will be issued. The first selectman confirmed that we can use bond money for the preliminary phases of the project.” (12/1/16)

The RFPs were finished in July 2017. The bid process was discussed and interviews for architects and CMRs were scheduled for August 2017. There was discussion, review and ranking of proposals for architects and CMRs on August 23, 2017; the interviews of three companies for the job of CMR took place on August 30, 2017, and the interviews of three architectural firms for design services for BSCC took place on August 31, 2017.

Very shortly after these interviews took place the First Selectman called a halt to the work and wrote a letter to the Board of Finance dated September 15, 2017, which said in part “until we have an approved budget by the State of Connecticut, it would be irresponsible to expend this amount from fund balance. Accordingly, I am notifying the Board of Finance tonight that I will not sign a contract on the BSCC project at this time.”

In minutes of the Board of Selectmen (BOS) from March 2016 through September 2017 (18 months), BSCC is mentioned only eight times, and these references have to do with RFPs going out and an award of a Main Street Investment Fund grant of $500,000 for BSCC Site Enhancements. At no time do the BOS minutes reflect a conversation about BSCC and any problem moving forward with the project.

In PBC minutes from 10/19/17: “Chairman Sangiovanni noted that the Bridge Street School project is currently suspended. It is not terminated or discontinued but due to the uncertainty of the State budget, it is suspended.” The current Town of Suffield budget has about $300,000 more than they expected, not cut.

According to Board of Finance minutes 12/11/17, the First Selectman feels she has the final say on this project: “Treasurer Davidson, First Selectman Mack and Deb Cerrato will decide if we should go forward with the Bridge Street school project.” In the history of Suffield, has there ever been a referendum on a bonded project that was passed, but not fulfilled? This is a dangerous precedent.

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