EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 3, 2013

Cost of changes at high school 'concerning'

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — City and school officials generally are pleased with progress on the roughly $100 million high school renovation project, but some say change orders on the project need to be watched.

Earlier this month, local officials monitoring the project questioned contractor Consigli Construction and project management company Trident Group when the officials were presented with several change requests, some for work completed last fall. City Councilor Ron Marsan, a member of the committee overseeing the renovation, told his fellow councilors the costs of changes were concerning.

“In the scope of the project it’s not alarming, but it’s becoming concerning,” he said at the last City Council meeting.

So far, the renovation and expansion project, which started in earnest last summer, has spent about $28 million, according to City Auditor Thomas Kelly. To date, requests for changes to the plans total about $1.29 million, or about 4.6 percent of the total amount spent so far and about 1.4 percent of the total project.

“The big picture is you have this major project, and 1.4 percent total for change orders is pretty good,” Kelly said.

The project’s budget included about $8 million, or 8 percent of the total, for unforeseen changes, which Marsan, a local contractor, and Gino Baroni, owner of Trident, said is a typical-sized contingency fund.

On Wednesday, Baroni told the Building Committee that especially given the turbulence of the project a year ago, when the city fired contractor Dimeo Construction because of escalating costs, the budget and schedule is “by and large in good shape.”

Baroni and representatives from Consigli presented committee members with a detailed breakdown of the changes and the reasons behind them on Wednesday, a move that addressed members’ concerns. They promised to continue presenting similar breakdowns.

Kelly told the City Council he is watching the changes closely to keep an account of which changes qualify for a 68-percent reimbursement from the state and which must be wholly paid for by the city. City and project officials plan to meet on March 20 with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to review the changes and get more solid answers on which changes can be reimbursed.

“I’m having trouble getting an answer from MSBA (on reimbursements),” Baroni said.

Consigli began renovation of the south wing of the high school and construction of a new wing and auditorium over the summer. Grades 10 through 12 use the north wing, while ninth graders use the Central School off Lawrence Street. Once renovation of the south wing is completed this summer, renovation on the north wing will begin and classes will shift to the refurbished wing in the fall.

Work is scheduled to be completed by summer 2014, with the entire building ready for class that September. Construction and city officials said the work is on schedule and on budget.

Methuen fired Dimeo on Dec. 31, 2011, when the cost estimate of the project jumped by $6 million. The schedule was thrown into doubt until the city negotiated a contract and schedule with Consigli in the spring of 2012.

The state will pay about $64.5 million of the $98.885 million project, with the rest borrowed by the city. The city also has borrowed money for renovation of the Central School into a ninth grade campus and the Quinn Building into a home for the school administration’s central office.

The city will borrow about $34 million for the project in total, Kelly said.

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