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Construction of Concord-Carlisle High delayed after state halts funding

Posted by Your Town  September 26, 2012 12:26 PM

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Construction of the new Concord-Carlisle high school has been delayed from its planned fall start date until at least the beginning of next year, after the state pulled funding for the troubled project in June, halting work and leaving the project in limbo.

“I don’t think this fall is a possibility,” said Concord-Carlisle Regional High School Building Committee Chair Stan Durlacher. “It’s probably pushed to early 2013 by now, pending a relatively rapid decision by the state.”

At the end of June,the Massachusetts School Building Authority suspended $28.8 million worth of grant payments to the $92.6 million project, saying the school construction costs had ballooned over budget and out of scope.

A spokesman for the MSBA declined to speculate on when the state will come to a decision about whether to reinstate funding, calling it hypothetical.

“Our staff is still evaluating the materials submitted by the District,” said Dan Collins, MSBA spokesman, in an email.

He also declined to comment on whether it is a possibility that the state would not reinstate funding.

“Our focus right now is on working with the District to get the project back within the scope of the Project Funding Agreement,” he said. “So that process is all we would comment on publicly at this time.”

The district had hoped to break ground sometime this fall. Initially, when funds from the state were first suspended, officials still believed they could do start work on time. In early July, John Flaherty, Concord-Carlisle’s deputy superintendent for finance and operations and a member of the Building Committee, told the Globe that groundbreaking was expected in the fall.

Durlacher said this week that despite the delay in groundbreaking, the district is still on schedule to hit its completion date of fall 2015.

“At this point, I don’t see anything that’s a huge impact to the schedule if we can get going relatively soon,” he said. “It won’t always remain as such, if we have further delays in the start. At this point in time, the original construction schedule is attainable.”

Durlacher said it would take a critical analysis to say exactly how much more flex time the district has built in to its schedule, but that it is dwindling.

“We have weeks, not months, is my overall assessment,” he said.

The district has not committed the design team to create construction drawings while it waits for word from the state, said Durlacher. If funding is reinstated, he said, those designs would have to be drawn up before construction could take place. The plan, said Durlacher, is to draw the construction designs in advance packages– designing the foundation and structural steel system, putting them out to bid, and getting the bulldozers and earthmoving equipment going while drawing up the other construction designs.

Drawings will take between ten and twelve weeks, said Durlacher, and the bidding process usually takes about two weeks.

“If we got the decision immediately, it would push it into January,” he said.

If the delay drags on, then the construction will have to be compressed, said Durlacher.

“If the end date were not to change, we’d potentially have to have more labor force to do the same amount of work,” he said. That would make the construction process more complex and more time-critical, he said.

Durlacher said that the state has not given the district a timeline for when to expect a decision, but that he had always expected the process to take a while.

“I figured there’s a tremendous amount of information that the state had to review and come to their determination,” he said. “I knew it was not going to be immediate.”

Since receiving the June 26 letter from the state that halted funds, district officials have said they have gotten the project back on track. At one point sometime in March, Durlacher has said, the project was poised to run between $15 and $17 million over its $75.1million building construction budget. Now, said Durlacher, the project is “absolutely” on budget.

The building design has also been scaled back: changes to the design include separating and shrinking a gym that had been attached to the main building, scrapping an outdoor amphitheater, and minimizing the building’s footprint by reducing its height and length.

The suspension of funds has ignited a smoldering discontent in the community about the project’s management, and tensions have run so high at some meetings that officials requested a police presence on two occasions, according to the Concord Police Department.

Some residents are upset over the changes to the school’s design, arguing that the school as it looks today is not the school they voted to fund at Town Meeting.

Durlacher, who took over as chair of the Building Committee in July after the two former cochairs resigned, has tried to calm tempers, publicly acknowledging that the Building Committee made mistakes in its handling of the project, and working to make the process going forward more transparent and accountable. But concerns have remained.

A particularly galling issues has been the planned destruction of two transportation buildings to make way for the new high school, which some in the community have called wasteful and unnecessary.

Concord resident Bill Plummer suggested a new plan for the situation of the school that would have allowed the buildings to stay. The district authorized a not-to-exceed $50,000 study to see whether another plan was feasible; this month the Committee voted unanimously against modifying the design.

Durlacher said he was not sure whether the price tag for the study was reimbursable by the state. Collins said in an email that “[b]ased on the information we have now, we would not reimburse for that.”

To date, Collins said, the MSBA has paid Concord-Carlisle $988,166 related to the high school building project.

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