DARIEN – Officials have delayed the $86 million renovation of three public elementary schools – Hindley, Holmes and Royle – by a year, pointing to a lack of participation and high cost estimates from contractors.
While the Hindley, Holmes and Royle Building Committee originally planned to start renovating and replacing the roofs at all three schools this summer and finish construction by August 2025, the members decided on Wednesday to delay construction to next year, as many potential contractors said they are overworked and understaffed.
The $86 million estimated budget includes renovations to libraries, classrooms, offices, parking lots and fields, removing portable classrooms and replacing the roofs at the three elementary schools. In May, the committee invited contractors to bid in “packages,” meaning they could bid on specific renovations like plumbing, flooring and demolition, rather than taking on all of them.
But at this week’s meeting, staff from O&G/AP – a construction management company contracted by the town – said they received less than three bids for several packages, despite inviting about 240 companies to participate.
“The public bidding process that we underwent, it resulted in a much lower participation than expected, especially in our key trades,” said David Cravanzola, assistant vice president of O&G/AP. “And the direct reflection there was lower participation, higher numbers, higher variance from our budget.”
Cravanzola said he reached out to about 150 of the companies that were invited to bid to better understand the low participation. Those who answered, he said, complained of workload, timing and staffing issues.
“With the market as busy as it is right now, there were some issues with people feeling that they couldn’t commit to the work because of their current manpower and getting that manpower down to Darien,” Cravanzola said.
Lorel Purcell, a preconstruction manager with O&G/AP, said the one-year delay could actually benefit the town by allowing the building committee more time to request additional funding if needed and look for potential cost savings.
But Purcell also noted a downside to delaying – contractors may increase the cost of labor, equipment and material in response to market changes.
“We will be delaying the construction, so some bidders may see that as additional labor percentages,” Purcell said. “So there may be a risk of potential escalation costs in the rebid as well.”
She said several contractors have already warned her of a 3 percent increase in labor costs from their original bids, given the delay. The only alternative for staying on schedule, she added, is to accept the higher bids.
“I think this approach gives the building committee the total story of what the project is going to cost,” Purcell said.
Building committee co-Chair Jill McCammon said she understood the benefits of rebidding in October but asked O&G/AP staff for assurance that there would be no further delays.
“Obviously, we can’t choose to do this in October and then have it happen again,” she said. “What level of confidence do you all have?”
Cravanzola said a few companies have informed O&G/AP that they plan to bid in October.
The building committee members, school district staff and First Selectman Monica McNally ultimately agreed that the yearlong delay was the right solution for the town, elementary students and school staff.
“The way the schedule works out with rebidding it is probably most helpful to the school system,” said Darien Schools Superintendent Alan Addley. “And if we have to wait just another year, essentially, to get what we need, then that’s what we have to do.”
Holmes Elementary School Principal Paula Bleakley agreed that waiting a year made the most sense, but told committee members they needed to keep parents and staff informed throughout the process.
“What I’m very aware of, and I’m sure everyone else is, is just how the community will respond to the delay and just making sure we’re super clear about how we communicate what the delay is and why,” she said. “So, I just think that’s an important thing to take into consideration.”
McNally thanked the building committee and acknowledged potential frustrations with the delay.
“I know this is a disappointment, but we’re going to work through it, and we’re gonna come out with a great product,” McNally said. “And I am convinced that the team that you’ve hired will make sure that this next phase goes smoothly.”
Under the new timeline, construction at Hindley, Holmes and Royle elementary schools would begin in spring 2024 and finish by August 2026. O&G/AP staff said their next step is to contact bidders to ensure their participation.
The building committee decided to reconvene on Aug. 16 to hear a progress report from O&G/AP, and then again on Sept. 9 to decide which packages they will rebid.
You can watch the discussion here on Darien TV 79