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Newton North costs puff up, Cohen takes a powder

Posted by Ralph Ranalli July 16, 2007 08:28 AM

NEWTON

It was already the most expensive high school building project in state history. Now, the cost of the new Newton North High School is rising.

Mayor David Cohen's office informed city aldermen at a meeting Wednesday that the official cost estimate of the project had risen to $154 million. The mayor did not appear before board members to discuss the news and left City Hall 20 minutes before the meeting, Globe West reporter Megan Woolhouse reports.

Cohen said in January that he wanted to cap the cost at $141 million. Asked about that figure last week, his spokesman, Jeremy Solomon, said: "I think he always considered it a target," not a promise.

The city had previously pegged the official cost at $151 million. The Globe estimated the cost of the project at $154 million in April, based on public records. The latest cost estimate was given to the city by Dimeo Construction of Providence, which is overseeing the project.

In recent months, Cohen and the School Committee considered but rejected design changes that could have shaved millions of dollars off the project's cost.

For example, the city has decided to spend extra for a more efficient heating and cooling system in the hope of cutting future energy costs. But Cohen also opted for a more expensive brick facade and the creation of a school theater balcony.

While the state will contribute $46.5 million to the project, the rest will come from city coffers. Sandy Pooler, Newton's chief administrative officer, said debt payments would cost the city an estimated $13 million annually by 2019.

Officials from the mayor's office still held out the possibility the city could find other savings to trim the cost.

Ward 4 Alderman Jay Harney said he thought the mayor had broken a promise to keep costs at $141 million.

"He sold a bill of goods to everybody, knowing full well he wouldn't be able to deliver," he said.

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