Removal Of New Air Conditioning Units Will Rightsize Hawley Project Budget

Published: Apr 08, 2022 07:00 AM

Following a review of options to address a quarter million dollars in cost overruns on the Hawley School HVAC renovation, the Public Buildings & Site Commission (PBSC) recommended that plans to replace six air-conditioning units in the 1997 section of the building be shelved.

The PBSC also recommended a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) of $7,491,086 at its April 4 meeting. Both the project change and the GMP were later approved at a Board of Selectmen meeting that same night.

The decision for the change to the project came after March bids on the Hawley project came in roughly $250,000 over budget.

After the overrun was made public last month, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal pointed out, “we’ve all watched the news and seen the escalation” of costs “in nearly every industry.”

He said the project “passed handsomely” by voters at referendum by a nearly two-to-one margin, but when the project went to bid, after the first round the lowest bid was “just north of $800,000 over” the $8 million approved. After a round of value engineering and a second round of bids, two bids came back with a $500,000 difference between them.

One new unit would still be part of the project to bring air-conditioning to a section of the school that is still not serviced and contains roughly six classrooms. A science classroom in the “back corner of the building” will remain with no AC.

All the changes to the project were to the 1997 portion of the building; no changes to the scope of the project were made for the sections of the building built in 1921 and 1948.

“Removing things from the 1997 building makes the most sense,” said PBSC Chairman Art Norton. “There’s no abatement to be done there — lead paint and asbestos were no longer being used in 1997.”

While the air-conditioning units have a 25 to 30 year life span, Rosenthal said that the units could possibly be put back into the project if a substantial part of the project’s contingency money is leftover.

While the project does have $700,000 in various contingency line items, the first selectman said there is a high probability that “things will be found” that will need to use that money, as part of the building dates back to 1921 and another section was built in 1948. He said that there is no way to know what is behind the walls until workers start cutting into them, and it might be costly to figure out how to fit the new piping there.

He also noted that at times in old construction, conduits and pipes would be buried in the masonry.

PBSC Chairman Art Norton said the project contains two main risks to the contingency — whether the rooftop of the 1921 building can support the weight of the HVAC units and installing a steel structural beam; and abatement in the 1921 and 1948 buildings.

Selectman Maureen Crick Owen said she was comfortable with the expertise of the PBSC and the construction companies hired by the town, and was “sure they’ll do a great job.”

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.

The project is meant to improve ventilation and air-conditioning at the school, while adding air-conditioning to areas currently without.

Norton said that the PBSC would start weekly ad hoc committee meetings to work with Downes Construction Company on the project and get constant updates, much like it did with the new Police Headquarters.

“This will make sure you stay on top of things and not dealing with things two to three weeks later,” said Crick Owen.

Norton said the “best part” of going to bid on the project three times was that the PBSC and Downes got to “really dig into the project” and “really understand where all the money is being spent.

“Such due diligence was not done on projects before, and some things were found after the fact,” said Norton. “That’s the worst time to do it.”

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

The town is gearing up to begin work on the HVAC system at Hawley School. The town approved the project at referendum on November 2. —Bee file photo