SALEM — Despite cost concerns and construction delays, Superintendent Michael Delahanty said the renovation of three elementary schools will still be finished on time and within the $22 million bonded by voters at Town Meeting.

Initial guaranteed maximum cost estimates from contractors came in at more than $20 million, which Delahanty called "unacceptable" in August. A final maximum estimate has not yet come in — but Delahanty said it, too, could be high.

The estimate only includes hard costs of upgrading the North Salem, Barron and Lancaster elementary schools, and officials were expecting something closer to $18 million. The district worked to make changes and cut the initial estimated price down to about $19 million.

A final estimated guarantee was originally due from contractors in November, but that has been delayed, Delahanty said. The superintendent said he had been promised the price by Dec. 21.

"We were concerned about the initial price, and the fact is (the final estimated maximum price) may come in at around where the initial price was," Delahanty said. "Then we'll just have to make it work within the money that we were allocated."

The delay in the final price was due to re-engineering, Delahanty said. He said the re-engineering was not directly related to reducing the project's price, and included changes to material used for masonry, electric conduits, gym floors and final changes to the building's appearance.

Part of why the initial estimated price was high is because of rules regarding wages for projects completed with qualified school construction bonds. Delahanty said using the bonds will save the district $5.5 million in interest — making it worth the requirement to pay the "prevailing wage" to workers on the project.

Meanwhile, the discovery of soil contaminated by a petroleum-like substance at North Salem School has delayed construction there. The soil was found after an old tank was removed, and though environmental tests showed the soil did not legally need to be removed, Delahanty said he did not want to build a pricey new addition over soil that could later cause problems,

"North Salem has been delayed because of this soil problem," Delahanty said. "It's still not going to delay in any way the opening of that school."

Crews removed about 300 yards of contaminated soil from the school, and filled the spot with clean soil. The new water tank has been buried and connected to the school, and officials were expecting to start using the new water system today .

The current work at North Salem, Barron and Lancaster Schools focuses on the building of new additions. Over the summer, the school buildings will be renovated, with the entire project slated to be finished in time for the first day of school in September.

"While we're hopeful to have all the additions finished by April vacation, it's unlikely the North Salem addition will be finished by then," he said. "But it won't be long after then that it will be finished."

The structural steel for the new addition at North Salem School should be erected later this month or early next year, Delahanty said. Then, work inside the new additions will begin at all three schools.

The steel has already been erected at Barron and Lancaster schools. Crews were pouring concrete for the floor decks there last week, and the classroom sides of the additions were being wrapped in vinyl to keep out the cold during the work.

At Barron School, crews discovered some ledge underground that is interfering with the running of a water line, Delahanty said. Crews expect to get a better look at the ledge today .

"They're going to be exposing the ledge to determine what the appropriate course of action is, whether to re-route the water line around that ledge, or through some hydraulics to split the ledge," Delahanty said.

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