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State suspends payments toward high school project

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / July 5, 2012
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The Massachusetts School Building Authority has suspended all grant payments to the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District for its $92.6 million high school project, giving the district 30 days to answer the state agency’s concerns or risk losing $28.8 million in reimbursements.

The budget, scope, and schedule for the new high school are not in compliance with the original agreement between the state and the district, according to a stern letter from the authority dated June 26.

To avoid termination of the reimbursement agreement, the district must provide nine pieces of information to the state within a month, the letter stated. The list includes a detailed account of all architectural and project management fees associated with the design submitted in March, plus all new design, redesign, and cost management fees incurred since then.

Information from the district has revealed “numerous and significant deviations” from the project’s scope, has raised “serious concerns” about the budget, and means “a likely delay of several months” in the project’s completion, according to the letter.

The letter also states that deviations from the agreement with the agency “have led to costly and avoidable redesign and value-management efforts, do not represent the best efforts of the district to comply with its obligations, and justify the immediate suspension of all grant payments to the district.”

The district has been working with its team of professionals to bring the project back ­into line, said John Flaherty, Concord-Carlisle’s deputy superintendent for finance and operations and a member of the high school building committee. The building committee is scheduled to meet Thursday with the School Committee to continue working on the issues.

“In terms of actual spending, we’re well within budget,” said Flaherty. “There are elements in the design that need to be rethought.”

It is projected costs that are causing problems right now, he said, a situation that is due, in part, to topographical challenges and a desire to get the best possible school that can also be environmentally sustainable.

A few weeks ago, the project appeared to be about $10 million over its $75.1 million construction budget, Flaherty said. By early this week, the projected gap was whittled down to perhaps $3 million.

Flaherty stressed that he hopes revised estimates based on new drawings will bring the project back on budget soon.

“We have no doubts we’ll be able to get the project within budget and on the schedule that was initially anticipated or somewhat better,” said Flaherty.

“There has been a desire to make a building that is state of the art or better in terms of sustainable features. When we estimate what those new features actually equate to, then we have to realign the wants to the reality of the budget, and that’s the process that’s going on,’’ he said. “We’re very close at this point.”

Groundbreaking for the new high school, which will be adjacent to the existing one, is scheduled for this fall, with completion expected in September 2015, after which the old high school would demolished, said Flaherty.

An item of particular concern mentioned in the state’s letter to the district was the second, or alternative, gym that is part of the project, but which is not eligible for state reimbursement.

Despite the state’s “repeated, express stipulation that the ­alternative gym must remain separate from the building as a condition of funding, the ­detailed design submittal . . . shows the complete incorporation of the ineligible alternative gym into the building in direct violation’’ of the terms of the agreement, the state building authority’s letter states.

Flaherty said that while a connected gym would be less expensive, the district understands it must keep the second gym separate, and will comply.

The district is making “significant progress” in answering the state’s concerns, he said, and seeks to build the best possible high school within the ­realities of the budget.

“Nobody wants to over-cut this,” he said.

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com.

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