Hawley HVAC Project Bids $250K Over, Reductions Sought

Published: Mar 25, 2022 07:00 AM

After several rounds of seeking bids that could fit the Hawley School HVAC project budget, the town is looking to rescope the project to meet the lowest bid, which was $250,000 over the $8 million approved by voters.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal at a March 22 Public Building and Site (PB&S) Commission meeting suggested not replacing six air-conditioning units that were originally installed in the west wing of the building in 1997. Instead, the first selectman proposed only installing one new unit that would bring cooling to six classrooms that are not currently air-conditioned.

“We’ve been working to figure out how to get this under budget,” said Rosenthal. “At this point, we’re trying to uncover every savings [opportunity].”

Unfortunately, he said further searching for cost reductions has been “trying to find pennies in the couch cushions,” rather than identifying big budget items. Project Designer Christopher Williams of Chris Williams Architects said the project doesn’t have a lot of “discretionary items like fancy tile” to remove.

“We’re just taking out an old system and putting a new one in,” said Williams. “It’s kind of a boring project.”

Rosenthal said that the air-conditioning units were likely the way to go but he wanted to consult with the Board of Finance and the Legislative Council.

“Pulling out the six air-conditioning units gets us under budget,” said Rosenthal. “We’ll get the consensus around that.”

Rosenthal suggested the units could be replaced in a later project, but the project already approved needs to get moving soon to meet a strict timeline of doing work during the summer to avoid displacing students as much as possible. He also noted that getting extra money for the project would take too long because of statutory notice requirements for referendums, and “running out and grabbing an extra $250,000” would not necessarily solve problems.

“This is probably the right path,” said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal also expressed hope that any savings during the construction process, like not using all contingency money, could allow for some of the air-conditioning units to be added back. The project does have $700,000 in various contingency line items, but PB&S members noted that was not a lot with renovation projects because “so much can be hidden” in an old building that needs to be dealt with.

PB&S Chairman Art Norton worked with Downes Construction Company project manager Michael Dell’Accio to set up a speedy timeline and also to get Downes to show bid package reports in a way that would allow PB&S members to easily see changes from one set to the next.

The change was expected to be presented to the Board of Finance at its March 24 meeting, and PB&S members were set to submit questions about the bid packages and changes by March 28, to give Dell’Accio a few days to prepare for a presentation on the reduction at the April 4 Board of Selectmen meeting, as well as setting the project’s guaranteed maximum price.

Rosenthal said that he has concerns with the project and wants Downes to “anticipate everything it can.”

“I don’t want to sign off on change orders we feel should have been foreseen,” said Rosenthal.

The Hawley School HVAC project was approved by voters at referendum on November 2. The town is using $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan money to help pay for the project, and bonding the rest over several years. The project is meant to improve ventilation and air-conditioning at the school, while adding air-conditioning to areas without.

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.