Committee crunching numbers on LHS work

Committee crunching numbers on LHS work

A stack of desks sits outside the main entrance to Lincoln High School last week, one of the first signs of impending changes to take place starting this summer. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

LINCOLN – The committee responsible for overseeing the construction/renovation of Lincoln High School is reassessing project details after changes in the state’s funding formula.

In the meantime, pre-construction work began last week, including moving furnishings from areas scheduled for early demolition, restaging temporary classroom and office spaces and other site work.

The state budget for fiscal year 2019, approved last month, brought changes to the education funding formula that will impact the LHS project. The project was approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education under its previous funding formula, which guaranteed the town a 38 percent reimbursement on its $60 million high school construction bond.

Under the new formula, each community in the state can earn 20 additional points, setting Lincoln’s potential reimbursement rate at 55 percent. Town Administrator Joe Almond said that translates to roughly $12 million in savings, plus interest, for the town over 20 years.

Almond, as well as Senators Ryan Pearson and Thomas Paolinio and others, advocated on behalf of the town, which was originally left out of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal because the LHS project had already been submitted to RIDE. Under the original bill, Lincoln was slated to receive up to eight bonus points rather than the full 20 credits. The Lincoln Town Council voted in April to approve a resolution requesting the state budget be amended to include all school building projects that have not yet been built.

The November ballot will include a statewide referendum question authorizing $250 million in general obligation bonds for public school construction projects over the next five years.

As part of the state-level changes, towns are now required to hire an owner’s project manager for major construction projects, a move Lincoln made in anticipation of the change, hiring Colliers Project Management. Without hiring a project manager, Lincoln would not have qualified for additional credits under the new bill.

According to Almond, the state originally promised to reimburse the full cost of the manager up front, but that has since changed as well. The town will now be reimbursed for the cost of the manager ($1.5 million) as part of the 20-year reimbursement rate.

“We now have to wrestle with adjusting that $1.5 million out of the project for now,” Almond explained. The committee is faced with the decision of how to absorb the $1.5 million cost.

“We have a lot of options,” Almond said. “We had to make a lot of adjustments, but we are in great financial shape at this point. The only thing up in the air is reconciling the added (manager) expense.”

Almond said he wouldn’t want to proceed without a project manager.

“This is a major project with a lot of factors. In my mind it’s well worth the money, and this is why the state will mandate it,” he said. “I was very pleased that the committee hired the OPM, based on speculation on what the state would do.”

As with any project, committee co-Chairman Arthur Russo said there have been some other unexpected expenses, including a leaky gym wall, higher-than-expected hazardous waste removal costs and an expanded water retention plan for the parking lot. In addition, the project architect SMMA and construction manager Gilbane Inc. have come up with different cost escalation estimates.

Russo said the team is exploring all of its cost-saving options, constantly making adjustments to fit within the budget.

Almond said the committee is moving fast to come up with alternatives to stay under budget.