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Unity Residents Told $3 Million Needed to Finish K-8 School

Unity — The lifting of the stop-work order Tuesday on construction of the Unity Elementary School did little to please several residents at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting who responded in disbelief when told the general contractor, Trumbull-Nelson, estimates it will cost another $3 million to finish the school.

“I’ve been in that building and from what I have seen, it should not cost $3 million to finish it,” said resident Adam Boardman, who reminded the board that only several weeks ago it thought the extra cost would be no more than $1.5 million.

The news about additional cost burden — fully one-third above the current $6.1 million budget to complete construction of the K-8 School — is the latest blow to Unity residents, who had initially been promised the school would be ready for occupancy last fall, but instead have seen their children transported to Claremont schools this year while construction glitches and incomplete plans halted the Unity project.

There was a call by some for the board to take a step back and consider other contractors.

“I’m just worried,” said Leisha Leslie. “It would be nice to stop, regroup and see if there are cheaper bids.”

School Board member Bob McDevitt said they received the estimate in a meeting with Trumbull-Nelson earlier in the day and did not have time to review it closely.

“We have not had time to digest it,” McDevitt said.

At a bond hearing next Tuesday night at 6:30, McDevitt said board will provide information with more details and line items.

“We are not prepared to answer questions on the numbers (now)” said McDevitt.

To cover the additional cost, the School Board is proposing a $2.75 million bond article on the school district warrant with the balance of Trumbull-Nelson’s estimate covered by money still in the construction budget that now stands at $6.1 million.

Orginally, voters approved a $4.7 million bond to finance construction of a new school in August 2010. But after that vote, the plans were reworked, and 8,000 square feet of additional space was added. Voters approved another $550,000 bond, while the remainder of the money has come from private donations.

Resident Joe Warner pointed out that Lebanon-based Trumbull-Nelson was asked to develop cost estimates without a competitive bid process. He said the school district needs an independent look at the numbers.

“How will you assess the bid under the (non-competitive) circumstances,” Warner said. “Some analysis of the proposal is called for.”

In response to suggestions for other bids, Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin said the district consulted with its attorney, Matt Upton, who told them they do not have the luxury of bidding out the work if they want to meet deadlines for the warrant.

“You have run out of time,” McGoodwin said, quoting Upton.

Resident Mark Gentes called upon the board to “stop everything” and start thinking about tuitioning Unity students, who are going to school in Claremont this year, for a portion of the next school year.

The cost for the tuitioning option will be part of next week’s bond hearing but board member Prudence McCormick warned that tuitioning the school’s approximately 100 students could end up being more costly. She said that would entail the district paying the tuition costs while having to finish the school and also make debt payments at the same time.

Unity teacher Jennifer Thompson, who has a child in the district, said parents do not want to have their children transported out of town to school for another year.

Trumbull-Nelson promised that the K-8 school would be open for occupancy in the new school year.

The order to stop work on the school was issued in July because of incomplete plans.

Tuesday night, state Fire Marshal Ron Anstey handed the board a letter saying his office had received sufficient documentation to allow construction to proceed in all areas except for mechanical and plumbing. Those plans should be finished shortly.

The board also adopted a $3.7 million budget for the annual school meeting. The spending plan represents an increase of 1.3 percent or $47,000 from this year and would add 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to the school tax rate, bringing it to $18.36.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.