CAMDEN — What began as a budgeted allowance of $60,000 to cover weather-related work on the new Camden-Rockport Middle School over the winter has increased to a figure which may be as high as $333,000. Of the potential $333,000, a change order for approximately $150,000 was deferred for approval by the School Administrative District 28 School Board by members of the CRMS Building Committee in a unanimous vote March 4.
According to Superintendent Maria Libby, the initial allowance of $60,000 has been spent in addition to the aforementioned $150,000.
At the Monday night meeting, the committee first sought to make a recommendation to the School Board to approve the $150,000 change order, but after a discussion and the revelation that the money had already been paid to the contractor, Ledgewood Construction, the decision was made to simply defer the change order to the board.
“That money has been spent. [Ledgewood] couldn’t wait for a month to stop their work to get the change order approved. All the equipment was here and the machine to make the lightweight foam concrete was here and they just needed to keep going,” said Libby.
Libby and architect Tyler Barter of Oak Point Associates said that an additional change order of up to $125,000 will be needed to complete work on the Knowlton Street facility into the spring. In an effort to reduce this estimate, Libby met with Erik Wiberg, of the geotechnical engineering firm R.W. Gillespie, to find alternate solutions to the fill being used on the site.
The Building Committee was shown a topographical map of the site, which suggested that crushed stone could be used in place of lightweight foam concrete. At this point it is not clear what the potential savings from substituting materials will be, by Libby said she expected to receive an estimate by Feb. 8. Barter said that an early ground freeze and other weather conditions did not cooperate with the concrete work on site as scheduled, and that currently efforts are being made finishing the enclosures on the structure.
“When we first found out that we were going to be over [budget] I don’t think anyone, the contractor included, had an appreciation of the magnitude of what it was really going to be. When we first heard about it we had spent about $45,000 or $50,000, they had gotten a fair amount of it done and most of the materials were on site, so when we got that next update and this whole group was caught up to speed, I think we were all a little bit caught off guard,” said Barter.
“With this [$60,000] put into the budget as an ‘allowance’ there was always some inherent risk, and whether that was communicated well or not is one of those things we can talk about as we work to improve going forward. As an allowance they knew they had to get the work done and they kept going.”
The funds for the change orders will be paid by the project’s contingency plan.Committee member and Camden Select Board Chairman Robert Falciani expressed concern in the fact that a recommendation was being asked by the committee for a change order of approximately $150,000 that had already been spent, implying that this seemed a moot point.
“I heard that they wanted to keep the project going, but no contractor has the right to spend the owner’s money pre-approval,” he said. “A change-order, by definition, is ‘before the fact,’ not after. So what you’re really asking this Building Committee to approve is to recommend this claim order or recommend [the School Board] go into a claim with the contractor,” said Falciani, adding that a once-monthly meeting by the building committee is too infrequent to address potential change orders or other unplanned events in a timely manner.
Barter said that the school district’s contract with Ledgewood includes a standard contract dispute release, which would allow the School Board to seek arbitration or mediation on a billing matter if they were dissatisfied. Falciani said that the dispute process, if pursued, would not stop the construction process.
“I don’t want to speak for the contractor but I will speak for myself – [the overage] ballooned exponentially bigger than I thought.... I was shocked when the ‘cost to complete’ came in and we had a conference call immediately after,” said Barter, adding that in other areas of the construction project the contractor has saved “tens of thousands of dollars.”
Owner’s representative Mary Beth Van Keuren said that if $125,000 spending is approved in addition to the existing $150,000 change order, the remaining contingency on the entire project until it’s expected completion in July of 2020 would be $465,000.
The meeting also addressed fundraising efforts spearheaded by Libby to raise monies to purchase various playground equipment. Initially much of the equipment was cut from the project through value engineering to reduce the overall cost to taxpayers, but Libby reported that to date some $136,000 had been raised to purchase and install the equipment on the premises; some $11,000 will come from reserve accounts. The total estimated cost of the playground equipment is $159,000.
The CRMS Building Committee’s next scheduled meeting will be held April 1 at 5 p.m. at the Bus Barn on Lions Lane in Camden.