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Unity School Board Says It Backed Forgoing Bond for Builder

Unity — The School Board Tuesday night defended its decision not to require the architect and construction manager on the new Unity Elementary School to post a performance bond and said it would ask the state Board of Education to back its position.

The state is now reviewing whether architect Scott Vaughn, who is overseeing the project and using his construction company, Third Dimension, to do some of the work to save money.

Board members Shawn Randall and Prudence McCormick both said that the board voted not to require Vaughn to secure a performance bond for either his architectural services or construction company.

“It was a School Board decision two years ago but I guess some didn’t like that,” McCormick said, referring to Craig Shute, who was on the board at the time and is one of two residents who made an inquiry about bonding to the state board.

After the meeting, Randall said he believes the local school district has the right to make the call on bonding question.

“I think the town has the authority (to make the decision,)” he said. “The amount we are saving, it just makes sense.”

Vaughn told the audience of about a dozen residents Tuesday night that he cannot afford a performance bond, which is the equivalent of an insurance policy against the job not being finished or not done to specifications. Such bonds typically amount to 100 percent of the contract value and require some amount in cash payment and collatoral pledged against the balance.

“I could not get a bond if I wanted to,” Vaughn said, adding that he does not currently have the adequate financial ability. “And I am not putting up my car and not putting up my house (as collateral).”

As for staying on the job until it is finished, Vaughn said with a laugh, “it is safe to say if I was going to walk away, I would have left by now” — a reference to the many glitches the project has suffered since he first stepped forward to undertake it.

Jeff Blaney, with the state Board of Education, said Tuesday that he is not sure whether the state or local school district has the authority to forgo a bond.

He has referred the matter to the Attorney General.

If a bond is required, Vaughn said he would no longer use the “low-cost labor” provided by his own firm and instead would be forced to bid some work to other contractors. He said that could potentially add $500,000 in costs to the project and push the completion date to next spring.

At present, Vaughn is shooting to finish the job by the end of the year. Unity students meanwhile are attending school in Claremont.

Unity resident Joe Warner worried that if the bonding question lingers, it could add to the delays and he urged the board to be proactive in contacting the state.

“I encourage you take the initiative on that,” Warner said.

Shute, the former school board member, was at the meeting and reminded the board that the bond question was raised long before now, which prompted McCormick to state the board already voted not to have Vaughn bonded.

Vaughn estimates his construction firm has done about $200,000 worth of work, including grinding and polishing the concrete floors, for which he bought $40,000 worth of equipment but did not charge the district. He could not estimate the value of the remaining work but said it could include installing kitchen equipment and stuffing in insulation.

“All subcontractors, except Third Dimension, are bonded,” Randall said. “The reason we did it was for cost savings.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.