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January 14, 2008

Consultant says school project may cost $700,000 more

SALEM - The high school renovation project's $41 million price tag may not be exact, but it's not inflated either.

That's what Gino Baroni of Salem's Trident Group told the School Board at a meeting last week. Baroni was hired by the school district to serve as a private consultant in October. Since then, he's scoured the preliminary high school renovation plans that were created by Frank P. Marinace's architecture firm.

What Baroni found was that those plans weren't more expensive than they needed to be. Instead he estimated the renovation would cost the school district about $700,000 more - or closer to $42 million - than Marinace estimated.

Baroni estimated the actual renovation of the 40-year-old building would cost about $2.5 million more than Marinace's plans showed. But he found the construction of a 64,000-square-foot athletic complex would cost about $1.5 million less than Marinace's plan.

Superintendent Michael Delahanty said there were a few other discrepancies, such as Baroni believing site work would cost about $50,000 more than Marinace did, but, on the whole, the estimates were pretty close to one another.

School Board Chairman Robert Bryant said he was pleased to see the cost difference between the two estimates was less than 1.5 percent.

"If you're less than 11/2 points, then you know you're getting pretty good pricing information," he said.

The school district hired Frank Marinace Architects to draw up preliminary plans for a renovation in 2006. Those plans were revealed last spring, and an estimated $41 million price tag was attached to them.

When voters head to the polls in two months, they'll be asked to approve an estimated $1.3 million in architectural and engineering fees. That money would be used to draw up more exact plans and get a more definitive cost for the project.

Delahanty said he's hopeful the private consultant's findings will squelch some rumors in town.

"I was pleased that they were able to dispel the criticism that the architect had inflated the cost of the overall project to get a larger architectural and engineering fee," he said.

Bryant agreed and said he was optimistic the community would realize the project was being handled responsibly.

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