Architect Plays Role on Multiple Fronts
Hartford — A common denominator in many of the major projects that the town and school district have put out to bid recently is David Laurin, a Hartford-based architect.
Before voters approved the $8.9 million bond for various recreation projects, Laurin put together the estimate for what it would cost to renovate the Wendell A. Barwood Arena. After the vote, he was awarded contracts totaling $371,000 for work on the arena, track and turf field, field house and Hartford Memorial Middle School.
Laurin also had a hand in putting together pre-bond estimates for rebuilding the West Hartford Library that was destroyed by flooding during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. He also was a player in determining an estimate for the $3.6 million in upgrades to the White River School, which voters approved at Town Meeting last month.
Laurin was awarded the contracts for the school district’s recreation projects through competitive bidding after the bond passed, said Superintendent Tom DeBalsi. Those included installing a track and turf field at the high school, renovating the middle school gymnasium and cafeteria, and building a field house.
The school district paid Laurin to do architectural designs and civil, structural, mechanical and electrical engineering for each of the projects. He was paid $65,000 for the track and turf field, $56,000 for the middle school and $90,000 for the field house.
Not all of that money goes to Laurin. He uses it to hire the appropriate people — such as engineers — to formulate a final design for a project.
For the same scope of work, the town paid Laurin $160,000 for the arena project. But Laurin wasn’t awarded that contract through normal bidding, said Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg.
The Selectboard gave Rieseberg permission to deviate from standard practice and hire Laurin because of the tight time frame the school and town were working on to piece together a joint bond, Rieseberg said. The West Hartford Library contract was awarded to Laurin on the same basis for $58,000. It entailed a similar scope of work.
“I said you guys are on the fast track here ... the only way you are going to do this is to sole source this,” Rieseberg said.
Laurin said last month that his current role in the White River School project, which hasn’t gotten underway yet, is “to be determined.” The school superintendent said Laurin hasn’t been awarded a contract for the school, and that he didn’t receive payment for the estimates he did.
Laurin declined to answer questions about how much of the contract totals end up in his pocket. It varies for each job, he said.
Voters approved borrowing up to $500,000 at Town Meeting in March 2012 to rebuild the West Hartford Library. The town ultimately borrowed $415,000 toward the $904,000 total project cost. The remainder was covered through insurance, Federal Emergency Management Agency money, donations and money from the town budget.
There was never a final budget determined or a final scope of what the project would entail, Rieseberg said. Because that was never done, he said, “it is hard for me to say definitely” whether there was a shortfall in funds needed to complete the project.
He said it is important to keep in mind that warrant articles for bonds authorize “bonding limits” and don’t always represent what a town or school plans to spend on a total project budget.
Former School Board member Jeff Arnold, who didn’t seek re-election in March, argued in a post on the Hartford listserv that the cost of the library project could have been reduced if the design had called for the use of less-expensive materials.
Arnold also believes that similar cost savings can be achieved if the White River School renovation were redesigned and put back out for bidding. He argues that Laurin potentially used more costly materials than necessary and that an earlier study showed the White River School project could be done for less.
At the March 26 School Board meeting, the school superintendent said the scope of the project changed since that 2011 study was completed, which, in part, looked at what needed to be done at the White River School.
For example, aspects of the project that will bring the building up to code didn’t need to be done under 2011 standards.
“If an architect designs something and the contractors bid over for what has been bonded, the architect should go back to the drawing board,” Arnold said. “I think they should try to meet what the town has put aside.”
“I am not going to get into a throwing stone match. The facts will stand for themselves,” Laurin said, sticking by his designs and estimates for all the projects he’s involved in.
Arnold said he was disappointed with the process Hartford officials followed before the recreation bond money was in hand.
“The only way you get firm numbers is when you pay an architect to make plans and then a contractor to look at the plans and say this is what it will cost,” Arnold, who was on the School Board during the pre-bond process, said. “These are pie-in-the-sky numbers.”