After hearing a proposal to trim about $1.2 million from the proposed and schools renovation project, the School Committee Tuesday voted to support keeping several items, including window replacements that could cost $800,000.
The proposal, presented by Design Partnership of Cambridge, came after the firm, the Permanent Building Committee and some School Committee members identified cuts to drive down costs for the renovation plans, which appears about $2.5 million over the estimate available when .
, which is what Town Meeting OK’d in April.
But, as the design stages progressed, cost estimates rose to $21,855,000, according to a summary provided by Design Partnership, which lists market conditions and code and phasing requirements as cost drivers.
On Tuesday, the School Committee considered a list of “accepted base scope reductions,” which officials proposed as a way to cut costs without taking too much away from students.
Among the 15 items on the list were using vinyl tile instead of epoxy flooring in single-user toilet rooms, using cast iron boilers instead of steel-condensing boilers, omitting generator enclosures and using fencing instead and repairing and reusing existing windows.
Ultimately, the School Committee decided to recommend keeping a few items within the scope: replacing windows, using steel-condensing boilers and using a 15 KVA uninterruptable power supply system.
The committee’s vote also asked Design Partnerships to sharpen their cost estimates and report back to the School and Permanent Building committees.
Learning from past experiences and doing the Bridge and Bowman project right, rather than “on the cheap,” was a key point for School Committee member Alessandro Allesandrini.
“These are two communities that are willing to go 20 to 25 years without a news school,” he said. “I hope as we discuss this that we’re going to keep that in mind.”
Among the items Allesandrini advocated for was making the investment of installing new windows during the project, rather than putting it off and risking it not happening later.
While the design team said doing the windows later would not be overly intrusive, nor would it necessarily add much to the cost, members of the School Committee and Parent Teacher Associations balked at postponing the window replacement, which was part of the original project pitch.
While the idea was to trim projected costs to help sell the proposed to sell Bridge and Bowman projects for a likely debt exclusion vote, PTA reps argued eliminating windows replacement could lose support among the school communities.
“While you’re concerned about cost right now to get people to vote for this, I really think not having the windows included could really jeopardize this project in the long run,” said Justine Wirtanen, co-president of the Bridge School’s Parent Teacher Association.
School Committee member Margaret Coppe acknowledged the political weight of the committee’s decision, saying it was important to think about cost to the voters.
If a $20 million debt exclusion would cost the average homeowner about $240, then a $21 million debt exclusion would add another $15 or so, Coppe estimated.
“What we have to be able to do is justify everything that we put in here, whatever it is,” she said, noting that the Bridge and Bowman debt exclusion comes at a time when officials are also preparing to seek funding for a new Estabrook School.
As the School Committee readied to vote, Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash, who had slipped out of the meeting, zipped in from outside the room requesting that they hold the vote so he could caucus with Mary Ann Stewart, the chairwoman.
Turns out, Ash had been conversing with Town Manager Carl Valente and members of the Permanent Building Committee and wanted to roll Stewart into the conversation prior to the vote.
The timing of Ash’s interjection was coincidental, according to Valente, who said he invited the Super into his office after bumping into Permanent Building Committee Chairman Jon Himmel as he was entering the and Himmel was exiting.
After the 15-minute caucus, Himmel publicly recommended that the School Committee state its preferences for the project scope and then have the architects go back and amend their numbers, so the PBC and School Committee would have a better idea of the numbers.
“I’m feeling a little uncomfortable about how things are being accounted,” he said.
Bill Hurley, a member of the Capital Expenditures Committee, also offered a reaction to what he heard, saying he believes the School Committee must do its due diligence and attempt to cut costs or risk losing support from the general, voting public.
“I’m not sure what the bottom line is,” he said, “But I think it is incumbent on you as a committee to do what you can to bring that number down.”
Coppe agreed, and identified the windows as the key dilemma. “Are we going to torpedo the whole project by putting the windows in and raising the amount of the debt exclusion to $21.6 from $20.8 million,” she asked rhetorically.