By Neale Gulley
The Tonawanda News
The City of Tonawanda school board on Tuesday heard pitches by four separate firms vying to serve as construction managers for the district’s upcoming $12 million capital improvement plan.
The project most notably will include construction of a new football stadium at the high school complex on Hinds Street — and the controversial retirement of the existing Clint Small Stadium on Main Street. The project was approved by voters at a referendum in late September, despite months of passionate debate for and against the plan.
Overall work to be bonded by the district includes the creation of new art suites, renovations in the music department, enhanced parking, a new bus loop and new roofing at Mullen and Riverview elementary schools.
Representatives of four construction management firms discussed their proposals to act as overseers of a project expected to start in the spring and last at least 17 months.
Whichever management firm is chosen will be paid roughly $500,000, with such fees typically representing about 5 percent of total construction costs. The firm’s primary duties would be coordinating work, change orders and overall project logistics between contractors, school administrators and the board.
Firms that presented to the board on Tuesday were: Ross Wilson Associates; The Pike Company; Lend Lease Construction and Turner Construction Co., the latter two being large companies with business around the country and the world.
Others like Pike and Ross Wilson are decidedly smaller firms that stressed quality, attention to detail and communication (as did each firm).
“This is a big thing — this is a really big project for this district,” Peter Buckley of Pike Co. told the board, stressing the emphasis on quality by his 138-year-old family-run company.
As an example of what board members will consider in narrowing the field to at least two finalist in the coming week, Pike is a combination management and general contracting firm. In contrast, Lend Lease Senior Vice President Mark Balling emphasized his firm’s dedication only to the management end of things, while stressing the large firm is a “leader” in school projects with global resources.
Lend Lease also was unique among all four in including comments by a former school superintendent at districts in the Syracuse area, Glens Falls and Corning, who acts as a liaison between contractor and school officials in school capital projects.
Balling and company as well as Turner, Pike and others underscored local ties their companies or project teams have with Tonawanda. Turner, a large firm with 5,500 employees, has more than 100 working full time in this area, including Matt Sikora, who is a graduate of Tonawanda High School.
“I’m sensitive to some of the issues with Clinton Small Stadium,” he said, referring to the emotion surrounding the decision to abandon the old venue.
The board resolved to discuss pros and cons of each presentation in an effort to decide on one of them by early next week at the latest, School Superintendent Whitney Vantine said.
Current New York State Education Department rules allows the district to be reimbursed for nearly 90 percent of the proposed project (based on current state aid formulas that are expected to soon change to cover drastically less of such a project).
The district plans to use $750,000 in capital reserves, leaving only about $550,000 that will have to be footed by city taxpayers.
Because the current stadium is not adjacent to other school property, the option of renovations there were deemed not to be feasible, mainly because they would not be covered by state aid because of the distance of the stadium from other school property. In other words, to renovate the existing stadium would cost taxpayers at least $1.5 million directly.