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Unity Residents Told Elementary School Running Over Budget

Unity — Residents already frustrated over not knowing when the town’s new elementary school would be ready for students received another piece of troublesome news Tuesday night when they were told the project was running over budget.

Architect and construction manager Scott Vaughn presented a spread sheet to the audience of about 50 people during a meeting with the School Board that showed it was now looking like the building project would post a $220,000 deficit.

The news of the deficit on top of uncertainity over when students would return left many residents unsettled. SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin said the district would soon begin to work with school boards in both Claremont and Unity on a contingency plan in case the K-8 elementary school is not finished by the start of the next school year.

That led to one parent letting the school board know exactly show she felt.

“I do not want my kids, under any circumstances, in Claremont next year,” said Shanee Taylor, who works at Disnard Elementary and praised the school staff and how it has handled the addition of Unity students this year.

Unity resident Adam Boardman asked the School Board how a project that began at $4.7 million is now around $6 million.

“You guys are starting to act like the federal government,” Boardman told the school board.

Voters passed the original bond of $4.7 million in August 2010 but with additional voter-approved spending and donations, the budget rose to $5.7 million. The size of the school also increased 7,000 square feet to 35,000 square feet and amenities were added.

Vaughn told residents Tuesday night that about $1.2 million in net costs were added to the project but only $990,000 was received beyond the initial $4.7 million, leaving the shortfall.

Vaughn said after the meeting that his goal is not to exceed the $5.9 million estimated cost to finish the job and he will continue to look for donations and grants to close the gap.

“This is all being done at cost,” said Vaughn, meaning there is no room for profit, overhead or contingency. “That number ($750,000) is direct cost. There is no tolerance for anything being added to it. If there are any fluctuations, they go to the bottom line.”

There was some good news Tuesday night, however. The School Board announced it received a $100,000 donation from the Robert and Joyce Oberkotter Family Foundation toward construction costs, plus a $50,000 grant. The Oberkotter Foundation earlier donated $170,000 toward the school’s construction cost.

Residents also demanded to know when the state fire marshal would finally have a full set of engineer stamped drawings.

Vaughn said he anticipates three final letters he is waiting for from engineers on the window design to be received this week and he will deliver the package to the state fire marshal immediately. If all goes according to plan, work at the school, most of which was shutdown by the fire marshal in August because of an issue with the window design and the lack of a complete set of plans, could resume later this year and be “substantially complete” by March.

At the beginning of the meeting, Boardman said he was recently approached by a Claremont resident, David Nichols, who has served in an oversight role on several school construction projects and volunteered to help Unity.

“He is willing to volunteer his time to be clerk of the works at no cost to the taxpayer,” Boardman said to a round of applause. Recently, Nichols inspected the boilers at Stevens High School and the middle school for the school district at no cost. The board said it would contact him.

Board member Bob McDevitt asked residents to remember that the finished product will be worth the wait.

“You will have a school that will last you 50 years or better. And the kids will have a really good education.”

About 100 Unity students travel each day to Disnard Elementary School and the Claremont Middle School.

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