Cost of Andover Bancroft school project likely to increase
News that the construction industry is experiencing a slight recovery from the recent housing and economic meltdown is not sitting well with those eager to get going on construction of a new Bancroft Elementary School in Andover.
Pending legal appeals have prevented town officials from seeking a building permit, as well as led to the indefinite suspension of the $44.7 million project, which was to have started two months ago. The delays, combined with the rebounding construction industry, will lead to higher-than-anticipated costs, school building committee members said at a recent meeting.
“There’s more construction beginning now than there has been in the last several years, so there’s more of a universe for people to bid on for projects,’’ said committee chairman Tom Deso, who also works in the construction business. “But because of the bad economy, some contractors are going out of business, so there are [fewer] bidders and more projects, and there’s demand, so it brings prices up. There’s the possible increased cost of materials, which you don’t know of until you get to a bid situation.’’
Over the next several meetings, the committee will try to calculate how much more the project’s bottom line will be affected based on several delay scenarios, Deso said.
“I’m hoping by the middle of January or end of January we’ll have a much better estimate,’’ Deso said in an interview. “If we made no changes, I would say the odds of this costing more at some point in the future than we’ve estimated now, I would say is close to 100 percent.’’
Several abutters of the proposed kindergarten through fifth grade school, which is slated to be located adjacent to the existing Bancroft, filed appeals with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, arguing that the town’s Conservation Commission’s conditions for the project’s flood management, storm water runoff, and wetlands replacement violate the Wetlands Protection Act.
Three of those are now appealing a superseding order from the state agency that affirmed the Conservation Commission’s conditions, said town counsel Thomas Urbelis. Two of the abutters also filed a lawsuit in Superior Court arguing that the project’s flood impact calculations are wrong and violate the town’s own wetlands bylaw.
A hearing on the Superior Court lawsuit was held Nov. 22, where “everything from soup to nuts was covered,’’ including recent findings by the state that soil samples from wetlands near the school on Bancroft Road tested positive for elevated levels of arsenic, said Peter E. Flynn, one of the attorneys representing the two abutters.
The arsenic findings, which are unrelated to the school project appeals, were a result of a separate investigation by the state agency into the discharge of contaminated sediments into a catch basin stemming from the cleanup of a 6 million-gallon underground water storage tank adjacent to the school property last year.
Further testing of the soil and sediments is being conducted per agency orders, said Town Manager Reginald S. Stapczynski, adding that parts of the water tank site will soon be fenced off to prevent children from playing there.
Urbelis estimated at the school building committee meeting that a decision from the Nov. 22 Superior Court hearing could come within 30 to 45 days, but added that any decision is subject to further appeals that could take between one and a half to two years in a worst-case scenario.
The state environmental agency hearing on the abutters’ appeals is not scheduled to take place until March, Urbelis said, adding that those, too, can take a long time. However, both sides have told the state environmental agency that they would be amenable to a mediation session that could lead to a resolution sooner, he said.
Deso said he is hopeful the project will avoid a two-year delay.
“I’m hoping we can make some progress in the very near future to getting things resolved,’’ Deso said. “We don’t have to go to that March hearing if we can come down to an agreement between now and then, and also a Superior Court resolution. . . . I think two years is a long time and it could have a serious effect on the project.’’
There is also a concern by some parents and town officials that continued delays could potentially affect the $16.8 million in total cost reimbursement set aside by the Massachusetts School Building Authority for the project, although the state has given no indication it would revoke or reduce the amount.
Contracts already in place with the architect and construction manager are now vulnerable to renegotiation because of the delay, as companies that were depending on the Bancroft school project may be forced to move on to other projects in the meantime, Deso said. The committee also will begin to look at cost savings within the project at upcoming meetings to make up for potential delay-fueled increases, said member Joseph Reilly.
The new facility, which would replace the 41-year-old Bancroft School, was originally slated to be ready for the 2013 school year, but “obviously the schedule for opening the new building will be predicated on when we actually start construction,’’ Deso said.