Cost drops for new high school
Building on schedule, but a last hurdle looms
Hanover’s first new high school in 60 years, now a giant skeleton of steel girders, will open on schedule in the fall of 2011 and cost about $11 million less than initially estimated, according to local officials.
It’s good news for Hanover taxpayers and the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the agency sharing the initially expected $61.3 million construction cost with the town. Last week, state and local officials, school children, and their parents scrawled signatures onto the final steel beam of the massive 157,000-square-foot building frame, and they cheered as a crane hoisted the girder slowly skyward and carefully set it in position during a topping-off celebration.
Keeping the project’s momentum going has been challenging for the town, due to legal sparring over its choice of the general contractor. Just as construction got underway last fall, a Plymouth Superior Court judge issued a stop-work order after the court received a complaint saying general contractor Callahan Inc. of Bridgewater had provided fraudulent information regarding its school construction experience on documents qualifying the company for the job. The judge’s ruling on the injunction request caused a five-week work stoppage just as winter was approaching.
Town officials successfully appealed the injunction, and cranes and bulldozers hummed once again in December. But that was not the end of the legal wrangling. Ten taxpayers from Hanover, most of them members of the carpenters’ union, filed an appeal of the appellate court decision, trying once again to stop construction work and ultimately take the job away from Callahan.
The appeal was heard last month in the state Supreme Judicial Court, but no ruling has been made to date. The justices can take up to 130 days to render a written decision, according to court spokeswoman Joan Kenney.
Hanover Building Committee chairman Chris Martin interprets the lack of action so far as a good sign.
“It’s been five weeks,’’ Martin said. “To me, that says they are letting us get the building done.’’
Meanwhile, the state School Building Authority has lived up to its commitment to fund about 48 percent of the total cost, despite the legal issues connected to the project. The agency’s executive director, Katherine Craven, said the state has so far reimbursed the town about $3.5 million.
“Our relationship is with the town, not the contractor, so the fraud would have to be between us and the town,’’ Craven said, when asked whether the court battles could jeopardize state funding.
“We couldn’t find the town has committed any fraud to the School Building Authority,’’ Craven said. “We will therefore keep reimbursing their invoices. When everything is properly submitted, we pay.’’
State Representative Robert Nyman, a Hanover Democrat and a local high school alumnus, said he’s confident the funding won’t dry up.
“We’ve said all along, let the appeal process run its course,’’ he said. “I’ve got a commitment from Treasurer [Timothy] Cahill and SBA that funding will continue.’’
Selectmen chairman Daniel Pallotta, who characterized the court complaints as “ridiculous,’’ called last week’s topping-off celebration a major milestone. He announced the projected construction cost has fallen from $61.3 million to more like $50 million.
“And the new football stadium behind the school will be ready for use by this September,’’ Pallotta said.
Brenda Maver, one of the parents who signed the final beam before it was put in place, called the effort to fund the project and the legal woes of the construction phase “a seven-year rollercoaster ride.’’
“Everyone worked so hard to make sure all the T’s were crossed and I’s dotted; then, with the court cases, it was a real nail-biter,’’ she said. “You can’t stop a project at this point. It would be heartbreaking.’’
Cathy Harder-Bernier, another parent at the topping-off ceremony, agreed.
“It’s certainly been a challenge to go through these stops and starts,’’ she said. “Today is certainly a milestone.’’
She said she holds no malice toward the 10 taxpayers who have challenged the bid award.
“Democracy is exactly that,’’ she said. “And we’ve had some good discourse.’’
Craven said her agency staunchly supports the town.
“We’ll continue to stand with the town to get the school built on time,’’ she said. “We want to be proud of this project and use it as a statewide model going forward.’’
Christine Legere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.