Hartford Rink Bids Over Budget
A Hartford boys hockey player enters the locker room at Barwood Arena in Hartford, Vt. on Nov. 14, 2013. The team had a captains' practice, one that players organize and chip in to buy ice time at the rink. (
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford boys hockey players Brandon Gaudet, left, and Cory Harriman wait to go out on the ice at Barwood Arena in Hartford, Vt., on Nov. 14, 2013. The team had a captains' practice, one that players organize and chip in to buy ice time at the rink. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Barwood Arena in Hartford, Vt., on Nov. 14, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford — Hartford officials this week said they are facing a roughly $500,000 shortfall in the amount of money needed to complete voter-approved renovations to the Wendell A. Barwood Arena and accompanying utility line upgrades.
Voters at Town Meeting in March approved a $9 million athletic and recreational facilities bond issue that included $2.5 million to renovate the existing locker room area, build an addition with new locker rooms, put on a new roof, and bring the arena up to code compliance, among several other upgrades.
The $2.5 million also was slated to cover utility work to replace aging and undersized water, sewer and power lines near Hartford High School and the ice rink.
The bids for the two projects came in higher than expected, though, which has left town officials with the question of how to pay for the work.
“The estimates we relied upon for the bonding purposes were not as accurate as they could have been,” Hartford Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg said on Thursday.
The low bid for the arena renovations came in at almost $2.5 million, which would exhaust the total budget approved for both projects. The low bid for the utility work was $413,239.
“We had 12 bids for the WABA project and three of them were within $20,000 of each other,” David Laurin, the project architect, said at Tuesday night’s Selectboard meeting. “That tells me they all understood the scope and that’s what the market cost is today.”
“The cost to do the work is higher than anticipated,” he said. “We had the projects estimated twice. They just came in high.”
The Hartford schools also won authorization to borrow money under the same $9 million improvement bond. One of the projects was $800,000 to build a track and an all-weather turf field at the high school.
School Superintendent Tom DeBalsi said bids for work that needs to be done beneath the field’s surface will come in next week, and he is concerned the school could be in the same boat as the town.
“I can confirm that we are very concerned about the cost of the project and that we may be over the estimate we used for the bond approval,” DeBalsi said in an email Thursday.
The bids for what it will cost to build the track and turf field came in around $700,000, but the additional work below the surface could throw the project over budget, Laurin said.
“We could spend another three-quarters-of-a-million before we are done getting the field prepped,” Laurin said. “It could be a million dollars. It’s not a couple-hundred-thousand, I know that.”
The Hartford Selectboard and School Board plan to discuss how to proceed at their next meetings — Nov. 26 for the Selectboard, Dec. 11 for the School Board. The town has until Dec. 22 to accept the utility bid and Dec. 31 to accept the building renovation bid.
The 27,400-square-foot Barwood Arena serves as the home rink for Hartford hockey teams and also has skating times open to the public. Generally in the summer, the facility is converted into a skateboard facility or is used by summer camps.
A planned 7,600-square-foot addition would add locker room space so that teams would no longer have to wait in the lobby.
At their meeting Tuesday, members of the Selectboard discussed several options for dealing with the shortfall. One was to go back to voters at Town Meeting in March and ask for more money.
Other options included completing parts of the project that the town already has funding for, dipping into other sources of funding in the budget, or stopping the project altogether.
“I am concerned that we are not doing everything that we said we were going to do with the Barwood Arena,” said Selectman F.X. Flinn, taking a stance against halting the project.
Selectwoman Bethany Fleishman expressed an even broader stance.
“I am concerned overall that some of these big projects are coming in over budget,” she said.
Selectman Simon Dennis concurred. “(It) translates into a situation that we have overspent already,” Dennis said, noting the town should go back to the design stage and figure out what it can complete with the funds it has already won approval to borrow.
Selectman Ken Parker said he would support doing pieces of the project where funding is already available, or going back to the voters to be able to complete the project as originally proposed.
“I’m pretty discouraged,” he said. “(But) we should suck it up and step up to the fence and do the project and do it right.”
The Selectboard also discussed additional costs for a new transformer to provide enhanced power to many of the facilities served by the electric lines near the high school.
The School Board at its Wednesday night meeting also discussed a potential shortfall in completing the track and field project, and School Board member Lori Dickerson said later that it entails more complicated aspects, such as proper drainage, than in previous eras.
“Things that used to be done in the old days, we can’t do it like that anymore,” Dickerson said.
Selectboard members talked Tuesday night about potentially splitting the costs of the utility work with the school, as the utility lines will service some school projects. Dividing up the costs would level the financial burden.
Dickerson said she didn’t see a problem with that.
“If it’s power lines coming to our schools, we have a share of that,” she said.
Hartford Parks and Recreation Director Tad Nunez said he hopes the town and school boards can find a common ground.
“My immediate reaction was that the way the bond was successfully passed was with the school and the Selectboard collaborating on a bond effort. (I hope) that they continue to collaborate on some of the challenges that are now presented to them,” Nunez said. “That has been a very healthy way to reach a consensus.”
School Board Chairman Kevin Christie said it is possible that by the middle of next week the boards will agree on if, or how, to divide the utility costs.
If anything, the situation at hand can be used as a learning tool, Flinn said.
“We can take a lesson from this and be a little more sure about what we are asking voters to approve,” he said. “And make sure we ask the town to approve enough so we don’t have to go through this again.”
Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3248.