SMMA makes case to continue work on LHS renovation project

SMMA makes case to continue work on LHS renovation project

LINCOLN – A team from Symmes Maini & McKee Associates made their case Monday on why their firm should be chosen to continue work on the Lincoln High School renovation project. Town and school officials are at odds with the company over a number of issues, including a $7 million cost discrepancy.

At Monday’s meeting, a new group of SMMA employees made a presentation to the LHS renovation committee, saying they were made aware of the board’s issues with Ed Frenette of SMMA who had been working with the Lincoln group for about two years.

Part of the renovation committee’s recent requests to SMMA were to remove Frenette from the planning team, and present a new set of associates from the company to work on the project budgeted for no more than $60 million in construction costs.

Jennifer Howe, who would serve as the principal in charge of the project, if SMMA’s contract is extended, was one of about 10 of the company’s associates who assured the LHS renovation committee Monday night that going forward, communication and clarity would be key.

“Hindsight is 20/20. (I’d) love to be able to go back a year or so before things went to the point where they’re at, but we can’t,” she said.

Howe continued, “That’s why we wanted to bring the team we have here today – to show you our commitment, to show you the expanded team we’ll have, the experts who are going to be part of this process moving forward. That’s all we can do at this point, we can’t go backwards,” she said.

Committee members spoke highly of Monday night’s presentation, which included testimonials from students and town officials where SMMA has completed projects, an elaborate explanation for who would be working on what, detailed site drawings and community outreach methods the company would provide.

SMMA team members said they weren’t made aware of how displeased the committee was with the company until after square footage errors and budget mistakes were made, issues prompting town officials to work with Frenette to bring the project back down to its budgeted amount.

The new group from SMMA told committee members they would compile a package complete with contract details and fees, as well as the scope of work needed for the renovation project, and said they would submit that proposal to the renovation board in two weeks so the committee can decide whether or not to continue working with the company on the project.

Arthur Russo, co-chairman of the committee and Town Council member, called the presentation a “slam dunk,” but said he remained concerned, explaining that the initial presentation from SMMA was also exceptional, but the relationship with the company deteriorated as the process moved along.

He said each member of the Town Council was still concerned about accuracy of information, promises that were made by SMMA, clarity and readiness on the project.

Lorraine Finnegan of SMMA spoke on behalf of Joel Seeley, who would serve as the day-to-day contact on the project going forward.

Finnegan said of Seeley, “His method is all about communication and clarity.”

She said, “We feel very strongly that we received the message,” about the committee’s displeasure.

“It will be very different from the second phase, I can guarantee you that,” she said.

After the SMMA team packed up and left the meeting, committee members discussed the problems they could face if they vote to go out to bid for a new architectural firm.

Bruce Ogni, who serves on the committee and also the Town Council, said it wouldn’t hurt to look at more options to see what other companies are out there, and what they could offer.

Michael Babbitt of the renovation panel, who also serves on the Budget Board, said if the committee votes to hire another consultant, “It’s going to go backwards.”

He said with his experience in the construction field, working for Dimeo Construction Inc., he’s learned that no architectural firms would develop the same design for the building, setting the process back with new designs.

Julie Zito, co-chairwoman of the board and member of the School Committee, said that most of the battle is over with now that the renovation panel has selected an addition-renovation plan, settled on a budget, and received approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education for phases of the project.

“The reality is that time is money,” said Mary Anne Roll, who serves on both the LHS project board and School Committee.

She mentioned the upcoming special election vote in November for a school bond referendum, and said many milestones must be accomplished before then to see the project through.

The board plans to review SMMA’s proposed package once it’s finalized in two weeks.

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Lincoln Middle School.