Committee members alarmed at LHS cost overruns

Committee members alarmed at LHS cost overruns

LINCOLN – Members of the committee overseeing the construction and renovation of Lincoln High School say they are becoming increasingly concerned about the project’s budget.

As of last week, the construction team led by the architecture firm SMMA and construction company Gilbane, and overseen by project managers from Colliers International, had still not come up with a guaranteed maximum price, or GMP.

Settling on a GMP would give the LHS Building Committee a clearer picture into the project’s budget. In the meantime, the committee has been eating away slowly at the project’s contingency fund to pay for change orders.

During last week’s meeting, the committee was asked to approve more than $25,000 in change orders, including numerous adjustments that were not accounted for in the project drawings.

“Our concern is, where is the bottom? Paying $50,000 to $100,000 a month is going to chew up our contingency,” said Michael O’Connell, who heads the budget subcommittee.

“We’re looking to stop the change orders, but this is still a significant amount of money coming out of the contingency that we were hoping to spend on other things.”

The contingency fund is between $2 and $3 million.

Top concerns right now include the cost of furniture and technology, which were subtracted from the budget and set as alternates. The committee hopes to tap into the contingency fund to pay for the $910,000 in furniture and $860,000 in technology.

O’Connell said the GMP could “make a lot of these issues moot, or maybe worse … we don’t know.”

Exasperated, committee member Michael Babbitt’s head dropped into his hands.

“Where … is … the GMP?” he asked. “This has got to end. The only way it does is with a GMP. We’re over $1 million to one contractor in change-orders.”

Derek Osterman, of Colliers, said Colliers and SMMA would be negotiating the GMP numbers with Gilbane.

“We will then likely follow up and meet with them on a fairly lengthy list of clarifications and exclusions. We’re making progress,” he said. “We want to make sure we get the best, more appropriate deal possible.”

Osterman said the process was “tricky” because “this project has a number of challenges and is a renovation coupled with new construction.

“We’re trying to be fiscally responsible while including everyone’s wants and needs," he said. "I think there have been some special challenges but I believe we’re responding to them.”

Supt. Larry Filippelli said he’s worried about the technology and furniture budget.

“We need to be thinking about the kids, moving them into the new space and what they’ll be moving into, which I hope is not a space with old desks and old tech,” he said.

He’s also concerned that the technology currently selected for the project, such as projector screens and document cameras, is outdated.

“We’re building a 21st century learning space and we need to be thinking 20 years into the future,” he said. “To me, that tech is already 15-20 years old. We have to have some discussions on what the tech should look like and how much it’s going to cost.”

Osterman said they’d proceed with getting ready to purchase phase one of furniture, but that the funds will be taken out of the contingency. “That’s the risk,” he said.

Town Administrator Joe Almond said, “we’re struggling with budget, but if we’re going to buy technology it’s been over two years since we spec’d it. I think it’s very reasonable to look at what has changed.”

The only credit to the budget was noted at the end of the meeting. The town will purchase new lockers through Sourcewell for $115,131, down from the initial low bid of $260,503. The news was met with cheers from members of the committee.

Comments

It is important to have updated technology and furniture, however those items don’t necessarily have to be part of this project. They can be budgeted for in next year’s fiscal budget.

The GMP should have been negotiated and included as a legal agreement with Gilbane in the 60 million-dollar bond. And, to have the Contingency fund at 2-3 million dollars is both irresponsible and not fiscally conservative. It’s kind of being fiscally selective saying we have money but we’re going to spend it on what we want. When you start tearing down buildings and walls from 1950, you never know what you will get. So, maybe the contingency fund should have been at 5 million. Who knows, but whatever the final contract agreement was set at, it should have included that Gilbane (the Contractor) be responsible for all overruns of this project.

There is a lot of chest pumping, finger pointing, question asking, time being wasted at meetings, much time being wasted in makeshift breakrooms too, and so on. Why are we asking what the GMP is now? Why can't we get it? It’s very disappointing to hear and read of the many dysfunctional aspects of this project to say the least.

Respectfully,

John Picozzi
Lincoln School Committee