Tonawanda News

March 1, 2013

FALLING FLAT

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — After months of the Tonawanda school board and project manager insisting that the district’s capital project would go on without a hitch, both parties struggled Thursday to explain to frustrated residents why one of the construction bids came in drastically over budget — and why the planned music wing expansion is now in peril.

“We made promises to you folks,” school board Vice President Demelt Shaw said. “You got a pamphlet, and we told you we’ve been approved to do this, and this, and this ... we’re not going to be able to keep those promises.”

Thursday’s public meeting comes after Project Director Peter Buckley, of Pike Co., told the school board Tuesday that general construction bids for the addition of the music wing and renovations on offices and a locker room came in more than $500,000 over the $3.689 million budget. 

The overages don’t affect the separate bid for a planned new football stadium, which came in or under budget and will go forward as planned.

Board members and residents said they didn’t understand why the bids came in so high and voiced their anger Thursday. 

“We are in the dark as taxpayers,” said Don Holler. “We don’t know what’s really going on. Everyone tells me, ‘everything is good,’ but look where we are today.’”

In response, Gloria Ciminelli, of Pike Co., said that the reasons for the overages are “hard to fathom,” and didn’t have any specific explanations for why it happened.

“We had a good pool of applicants — seven,” she said. “And they were all very close to each other, telling us this is really what it would cost.” 

Brian Brady, of architectural firm Wendel, presented the current options to the audience. 

Brady said the board could go back to the community and ask for more money to build the project exactly as planned; to proceed with the addition but make changes to the drawings to save money; or renovate the existing music rooms instead of creating an addition.

“We believe the third option is the best,” Brady said. “We are proud of the addition, we think it looks spectacular, but the contractors told us it will cost more than we expected.” 

Wendel representatives detailed how they would renovate the existing rooms, but said they are still figuring out if those renovations are even possible. 

Renovations would likely include expanding the length and width of the choral room and raising the roof of the band room to improve storage and acoustics. 

Christopher Taylor, the head of the middle school band, said he talked to his staff and said the music teachers, are all OK with the plan to renovate the existing rooms.

Many of the attendees Thursday seemed to agree with Brady, and believed renovating the existing rooms is the best option. 

“Living in a community with a fixed incomes, I’d like to see the third option be looked into,” Tonawanda resident and former councilman Rick Davis said. 

If the district decides to go ahead with the plan to renovate the music rooms, Brady said the plans would “probably not” have to be resubmitted to the state Department of Education — an approval process that takes months. 

Pike Co. recommended that the board move ahead with the construction for the stadium so that it is complete on time before the football season. Ciminelli said the changes to the music wing would likely set the project back, but not significantly.

“It was supposed to be done in November, and they do have to redesign — but we are hoping to go out to bid at the end of the summer and do all of the work in the fall to be done by Christmas,” she said. 

The board didn’t take any action Thursday and will continue to consider the options before making a final decision. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150