Tonawanda News

February 27, 2013

TCSD capital plan over budget

By Neale Gulley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The Tonawanda City School District’s pending $12 million capital project is over budget and will require significant changes to move forward, board members were told Tuesday.

Project Director Peter Buckley, of Pike Co., said bids from seven contractors vying to handle construction of a new music wing at the high school included a low bid of $3.689 million — about $500,000 more than approved by district voters last May.

Bids to construct a new football stadium, the linchpin of the project, came in on or under budget and work on it is unaffected by the music wing overages.

Project managers were at a loss in explaining the problem Tuesday.

”It’s really difficult to explain,” Buckley told a decidedly frustrated school board. “I don’t know how anyone could have anticipated it.”

With a “hungry economy” and decent competition among firms returning bids, project managers said work expected to cost roughly $250 per square foot would cost the district closer to $500 per square foot.

While the money is available as part of the district’s overall capital bond, spending it would eliminate all of the project’s contingency funding — a buffer amount to cover change orders resulting from unforeseen problems affecting virtually every such project. The district is bound by law not to exceed the amount of money voters authorized them to bond for the project.

The budget-busting bid is related only to general construction work inside the building — including the music wing, as well as planned renovations to the locker room and main office at the Hinds Street building.

Making matters worse, Brian Brady of project architects Wendel said two other side-projects including a new roof at Riverview and expanded parking are considered alternate projects in the current funding picture. If considered essential elements of the plan, the true overage is more like $650,000.

Because the stadium bids came in at or below projections, Buckley recommended moving forward with the stadium work immediately in order to ensure facilities will be open for fall sports.

A public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the high school auditorium to allow residents to weigh in on possible changes to the project, since Buckley said simply re-bidding the work usually results in even higher estimates.

”If you go out with the same project, invariably the bids will come back higher,” he said.

Just as importantly, Buckley said a big chunk of the expense — about $300,000 — is related to decorative wall panels in the music wing that are more expensive than originally thought. 

Simply eliminating the panels, however, may not save enough money when material and labor costs for a more basic brick-and-mortar approach are considered.

”We have some strategies to put it all back together,” he said.

The public are encouraged to speak at Thursday’s forum.

Also at Tuesday’s board meeting, board member Sharon Stuart was livid regarding what she said were “goading” comments posted over the last month on a Facebook page maintained by fellow board member Bob Starr.

Stuart said Starr repeatedly alluded to something he termed “the bam,” a term he allegedly coined in reference to the upcoming removal of a committee person serving the district.

Though Stuart didn’t say who Starr was referring to in the posts, she lashed out, calling the practice “disgusting” and a breach in protocol. 

After a lengthy executive session to discuss the matter behind closed doors, board member Demelt Shaw officially changed the reason for the abrupt sidebar from “board relations” to “potential litigation.”

Contact City Editor Neale Gulley at 534-4237.