MADISON – The Board of Education unanimously approved moving three items that were budgeted in the construction of a new elementary school to “add alternate” items to reduce the $2.4 million in overages on the new school project.
The authorized project cost for the new elementary school is $61.15 million and is part of a larger Madison School Renewal Plan totalling $89.2 million, which includes improvements to Polson Middle School and Brown Intermediate School.
The shortfall for funding the new elementary school initially totaled $5.9 million.
Because the costs toward Polson Middle School ended up lower than projected, nearly $3.5 million that funding was approved by the Board of Selectmen in June to offset the $5.9 million shortfall. Because all three school projects were approved in a single bonding package, the funds can be used interchangeably if necessary.
The Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance also approved the transfer of $2.4 million from the town’s undesignated fund balance to cover the remainder of the shortfall, but in a town meeting on July 24, residents of the town voted down that transfer.
With the new elementary school project still $2.4 million short of funding, the Board of Education considered what they could do to cut costs for the project.
Adam Levitus, a senior project manager at Colliers, the company contracted for the project, said at the meeting Tuesday that when the original $89.2 million bond proposal went to referendum, the education specifications were based on a projected enrollment of about 600 students. Those projections changed.
“Subsequent to the establishment of the budget, enrollment projections were updated with an additional 40 students who were likely to attend,” Levitus said, which resulted in an additional four classrooms.”
“The additional $5.8 million in development no one foresaw,” he said. “What can be taken out while still fitting in responsible budgetary items?”
Superintendent Craig Cooke said that the town meeting vote was not about whether the school project needed four more classrooms, but was whether the town could allocate the $2.4 million to the project.
“There was no vote on the size of the classrooms or how many classrooms,” he said.
He also said that simply removing the four classrooms wouldn’t save the project $2.4 million, given that the current design included the classrooms and there were other costs to be accounted for, like utilities that feed into that area.
“A plan that is submitted to the state and approved for referendum purposes, it’s an incomplete plan,” said Board Chair Seth Klaskin. “The voters went to referendum based on an incomplete plan, because this is how it works in Connecticut. As we got information on increased student enrollment, we had to reconfigure the plan to make sure we can accommodate the kids in classrooms. We had to redesign, within the footprint, the four classrooms.”
Klaskin said it was incumbent on them to look at items that the board is willing to sacrifice as bid alternates, or items that a company can add onto the project, but aren’t required.
The bid alternates the board considered are items within the board’s purview as part of the building’s education specifications.
“I would submit that we should eliminate as a bid alternate the radiant flooring in the new school,” he said. “I would suggest we could really show good faith to the community and be true to the spirit of trying to build the school we need. Radiant flooring would be great, but to me it’s a luxury item that I think is a bad look to move forward with.”
Levitus said the radiant flooring would be an item that can become a bid alternate.
He also said the school’s fire protection system is pretty advanced for an elementary school and suggested downgrading the system. He also suggested eliminating some dishwashing equipment in the school kitchen that isn’t required.
The total savings of the three items are estimated to be about $225,000 for the fire protection system, $72,000 for the kitchen equipment, and $356,000 for the radiant flooring, totaling $653,000, leaving $1,747,000 remaining in the shortfall.
Klaskin reminded the board that though the new school budget has a shortfall, in the long run, the town will be reimbursed over $18 million by the state and for the installation of geothermal energy.
“What it can be used for, once we bond out all the money, we can consolidate all those loans, pay them down… and save a lot of tax dollars,” he said.
The board unanimously approved the moving of the three budget items to become bid alternates.
The board also unanimously voted to send a letter to the School Building Committee stating that the Board of Education is intent on keeping the four additional classrooms as part of the project.
First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons said today that the Board of Selectmen will bed updated on Monday by the building committee and the Board of Education on how they will proceed with the new school project.
As for Jeffrey Elementary, Ryerson Elementary, and the Town Campus Learning Center — all slated to close — Lyons said, “the town will be going through a process with the new facility committee to determine what to do with those buildings.”