Unity Keeps Architect, For Now

Superintendent Urges Board to Cut Ties

Unity — The School Board has decided to give architect Scott Vaughn until the end of the year to get construction restarted on the new Unity Elementary School, a decision that goes against the recommendation of SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin.

In response to a question from the audience, McGoodwin told about 20 residents in attendance at Tuesday’s School Board meeting that Vaughn should be removed from the project immediately and the board should hire a new architect to prepare a proposal to bring to voters next March.

“Unity is between a very big rock and a very big hard place,” said McGoodwin. “It is going to cost money to finish the school. The question is, what is the least expensive way. By my figuring, it will be less money to remove Vaughn Associates and give the project over to professionals to prepare something for Town Meeting in March.”

While board members Tuesday night acknowledged that might ultimately be the course of action, the board was not prepared to do so now, and instead gave Vaughn until Dec. 31 to restart construction, which has been on hold since summer over permitting and insurance issues.

“It we get to the deadline and are not making progress, then it is (McGoodwin’s) plan,” said School Board Chairman Shawn Randall.

McGoodwin, who described himself as “very, very anxious” about the board’s approach, said his chief concern is that Vaughn will be kept on but won’t be able to complete the building before next school year begins. If that happens, Unity would not only have to pay tuition for students to attend another town’s schools, but also incur unemployment costs because Unity teachers would be out of work. Combined, it could cost the town more than $2 million.

McGoodwin also said he could not speak for the Claremont School Board but would be “surprised” if it offered to take Unity students for another year.

In addition to the unemployment and tuition costs, McGoodwin said the Unity district would not receive $105,000 in annual state aid payments until the school is finished.

McGoodwin said he recently toured the construction with the architect, general contractor and owner’s representative on the Stevens High School renovation project. He said they estimated the Unity school is about 50 percent complete and the community would need to come up with another $1.5 million to finish construction.

(In August 2010, voters approved a project with a $4.7 million price tag. The cost for the project for the project has since risen to about $5.6 million.)

Randall and board member Bob McDevitt argued Tuesday night that terminating Vaughn’s contract immediately guarantees the project would not be restarted until next spring. Furthermore, board members said, a Town Meeting request of $1.5 million is far more than Vaughn’s current projected deficit of $200,000.

“We owe it to (residents) to get over the finish line for the least amount of money,” McDevitt said. “I’d rather ask for $200,000 than $1.5 million. I owe the community that.”

There was some promising news Tuesday night. Vaughn has submitted complete plans to the state, and the state Fire Marshal’s Office expects the two-week review process will begin next week.

If the plans are approved, “we are off to the races,” said State Fire Marshal Ron Anstey at the board meeting.

And while the board didn’t fire Vaughn as architect, they did curtail his involvement in the project.

Randall said Vaughn’s construction company, Third Dimension, is no longer permitted to do any work valued at more than $35,000 because it is not properly bonded. The bonding is similar to an insurance policy guaranteeing the work will be completed as promised.

Vaughn, who was at the meeting but did not speak during the discussion on his contract and declined to comment afterward, said in earlier interviews that he used his own company to reduce labor costs.

Randall said the board would also hire a new general contractor and a clerk of the works to oversee the construction going forward. Vaughn, who has been the construction manager on the job, will no longer work in that capacity.

The board also announced it has received more donations, some from residents, others from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, totaling at least $200,000.

Goodwin made it clear Tuesday he is not “at war” with the Unity board but thinks members are making a mistake by not cutting ties with Vaughn immediately. “I’m not a renegade,” he said, “but I said if I was asked, I told them what I would say.”