North Branford awards bids for middle school renovation

By Rachael Scarborough King
April 3, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD – The Town Council is moving ahead with work on renovating the middle school, awarding almost 20 bids for the project Tuesday night.

Several town residents and parents of schoolchildren spoke out at the meeting to urge Town Council members not to delay the work. About 75 people attended the meeting, many of them standing along the edge of the room.

The bids, which total more than $20 million, cover a range of construction items for the “renovate as new” project at North Branford Intermediate School.

The school is undergoing a $36 million renovation and expansion that will increase its size to 117,000 square feet from the current building of 69,000 square feet.

Some work took place last summer, but major construction will commence in the next few weeks, Superintendent Robert Wolfe. The work will include nine portable classrooms that students will use next year.

“My greatest concern was that we might lose the summer (because of delays),” Wolfe said. “We’re not going to lose the summer now and we’re going to be able to take advantage of this longer break in the summer to get done some of the things we need to do while students aren’t there.”

Last fall, Intermediate School Principal Alan Davis said demolition of the cafeteria and music building could begin that semester, but the work was delayed until the town awarded a bid for demolition, which it did Tuesday night. The cafeteria has been closed since last summer, when asbestos remediation took place, and students eat lunch in the gymnasium.

The Town Council recently put off awarding the bids for a few weeks in order to hire an outside firm to review the bid documents “to see if there wasn’t any savings that could be had,” Interim Town Manager Michael Paulhus said. Representatives from the firm, Nafis & Young Engineers, told council members Tuesday that the plans look strong and they had only one or two areas for some potential cost savings.

“We did not find a lot of very big issues,” James Galligan said. “We did not find any gold-plated faucets, no rosewood paneling.”

The engineers suggested that the town take another look at flooring options and make sure there will not be any extra costs with asbestos removal. The town spent about $7,200 on the review, Paulhus said.

Some in attendance at the meeting questioned the need for the outside review. Galligan told the council that two previous value engineering reviews had already been done of the plans.

Penny Seaman, a parent of children in the school system, called the middles school “obsolete” and “outdated.”

“I realize how important it is that we manage our money and are wise in the expenses, but each day of delay increases the cost,” she said.

Another parent, Elizabeth Kaplan, questioned hiring Nafis & Young to review the plans.

“Obviously this is the most expensive project to come to North Branford,” Kaplan said. “What concerns me, and what I hope you’re not doing, is nickel and diming this project.”

Paulhus said he thinks the extra review was worthwhile. At the Council’s March 4 meeting, Council Member Andrew Bozzuto suggested hiring a firm, according to the meeting’s minutes, and the town then solicited quotes.

“It doesn’t hurt in a project of this magnitude to take a few extra weeks to have a local firm … to give them sort of a second opinion, if you will, that their money is being well spent,” Paulhus said. “The taxpayers, in my opinion, will be comforted knowing that another set of eyeballs have looked at this.”

The town has already hired a construction manager for the project, Turner Construction Company. The 18 bids awarded Monday were for specific items within the construction, from heating to electricity to plumbing.

The Council did not award two out of the 20 bids because of some deficiencies in the bid packages. Paulhus said that the town received from two to 11 responses for each of the 20 items.

“Rather than just giving it to one general contractor — here’s a $30 million project — we separated all of those trades out specifically,” he said.

The total cost of the bids came in under budget, he added.

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