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We Choose…(the Sequel)

“We choose to go to the Moon! …We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …”

President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

“As a Town, we always knew that developing a Lincoln School project would be complicated and require a careful cost/benefit analysis of criteria and options.“ — SBC blog post, December 2017

There’s no sugar-coating this: Last night’s School Building Committee (SBC) meeting was rough. Most of the construction bids are in and we had to vote to remove $3.5M from the project in order to keep us on time and on budget — REALLY?!?! So how did we get here, what did we have to cut, and what comes next?

Over two years ago, we got our first cost estimates for a set of project concepts based on our educational and sustainability ideals — they were much higher than we had hoped and the long, hard work of shaping and approving our school project began. Since June 2018, when we approved concept “L3” with a budget of $93.9M, we have had 4 sets of cost estimates and 3 rounds of value engineering. When making these painful decisions, we’ve relied on our community’s 5 core project values to guide our decisions about what we could cut. When we eliminated a final $1.1M at the end of November, we believed we had done everything we needed to do to get favorable bids from all the subcontractors involved in the project. The marketplace just told us otherwise.

Why are the bids high when we just did Value Engineering 2 months ago?

  • Our Construction Manager, Consigli, reminded us that this is a complicated renovation project which is harder to execute than new construction.
  • There are many new construction projects in the marketplace — other schools, housing, commercial, etc. — these projects are easier to estimate because there are fewer unknowns and there is less risk assumed by the contractors. As a result, in a white-hot construction market, contractors are more interested in these “clean” projects.
  • Annual escalation rates jumped from 5-6% in 2019 to 8% in the last two months.
  • There was a lower-than-expected response from our pre-qualified bidders. Only about half of the subcontractors ended up submitting a bid.
  • “Trade” contractors (e.g. roofing, plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems) had a hard bid deadline of January 29th. Trade bids are regulated by state laws that fix the scope of the work and preclude us from negotiating.
  • “Non-trade” contractors (e.g. steel, drywall, landscaping) are still able to submit bids for another couple of weeks. Consigli manages these bids.
  • We are committed to a project that is on time and on budget. The Committee made the hard decisions we needed to last night to cut what was necessary in order to close the gap, stay on budget, and keep us on schedule.

What did we have to cut? Unlike our other Value Engineering exercises, the size of the bid gap left the SBC with little discretion about what to remove. We had to make cuts in items that impact our project values such as: auditorium renovations/theatrical rigging; design features that admit and control natural light; a 3/4 reduction in the furniture, fixtures, equipment, technology budget; elimination of walkway and bike paths, courtyards; a 50% reduction of playground equipment, and; planting new trees.

The good news is that we protected key educational elements and the building remains net zero.

Next Steps:

  • Consigli will provide a breakdown of construction timing for each item that was value engineered/eliminated to help the SBC understand which decisions can/cannot be reconsidered if there are savings in other areas.
  • After school vacation week, the SBC will meet with the Finance Committee to see if there are any funding options, with minimal or no impact on the town budget, for funding core elements that affect long-term value and cannot be added after the project is complete. Any such funding decisions would require a Town Meeting vote.
  • Since the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting has closed, a Special Town Meeting (within the Annual Town Meeting) would need to be called for any project-related appropriations. The SBC voted to ask the School Committee to ask the Board of Selectmen to consider authorizing a STM if such a meeting is requested.
  • Upcoming meetings:
    • February 24th — School Committee Meeting, 8:00am; Board of Selectmen Meeting 6:30pm
    • February 25th — Finance Committee Meeting, 6:30pm
    • February 26th — School Building Committee Meeting, 7:00pm
    • February 27th — School Committee Meeting, 7:00pm


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