New Unity Elementary School Exceeds Budget

Unity — The architect of the elementary school is defending the cost overruns on the project, saying that they are due to several unforseen factors and that he’s been able to keep the costs from going higher.

The additional $350,000 being sought for the elementary school, now under construction, won’t be voted on until March, but architect Scott Vaughn of Vaughn Associates said it is important to fully inform voters right now for the reasons for the request.

In addition to the bigger building, playground equipment, supplemental furniture, and other items were able to be purchased using the original bond money, despite not having been part of the original proposal.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there about cost overruns,” he said.

In a recent interview, Vaughn said the building is larger than initially proposed and the cost-per-square foot will end up being 23 percent lower than estimated even with the additional money.

When voters approved a $4.7 million bond at an emergency meeting in August 2010, the size of the proposed new school, to be built next to the existing school, was 27,000 square feet. The actual building is 34,700 square feet.

“We have 28 percent more building and are asking for 7 percent more money,” Vaughn said. “That is how I look at it.

“The gym is larger and classrooms were added,” he said, explaining that the school facilities committee met in the fall 2010 to discuss making the building bigger. “We decided the building was undersized for current and future needs.”

Vaughn also said the size of some classrooms was doubled, and the kitchen, library and storage areas were made larger.

“It is space all over (the building),” Vaughn said.

Unanticipated site work also contributed. Estimated at nearly $500,000, it turned out to be $190,000 more.

“After the soil test, we realized we needed to do significant dewatering,” said Vaughn, calling it a “freakishly wet site.”

Finally, the company that was supposed to deliver the wall system for the building was unable to do so on time, forcing Vaughn to find an alternative.

“That was a sizeable share of the cost overrun. I had to do some re-engineering of the building and it cost more to find a substitute,” he said.

He also said it is important to have some reserve and the $40,000 reserve in the original bond has been exhausted.

“I know the costs today, but there may be unanticipated costs. That is normal,” he said.

The original bond broke down among three main components: $3.5 million for the building, $500,000 for site work and $700,000 for professional services.

It did not include the “second phase,” for finish grading, paving, site lighting, athletic fields, playground equipment, landscaping and supplemental furniture, fixtures, and equipment, Vaughn said in his email.

But now the building is not only bigger, but those other have been folded into the project.

“This additional work could have added $1.4 million to the cost of the project however the request presented to the Town of Unity is for an additional $350,000,” Vaughn wrote, adding that the square foot cost will be lowered to $105 from $136. “This is a much more expense project that what they are paying.

“We’ve done so much economizing, it is not in the best interest of the community to reduce the work further,” he said. “We revisited every part of the project to find economies. There was an ongoing redesign and ongoing reallocation of resources.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at