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With a price cap proposed, North Stonington school building project on track to break ground in February

North Stonington — Over a year and a half after the town approved a $38.5 million project to renovate the town's schools, the project is nearing the end of its planning stage and town officials expect to break ground next month.

On Tuesday the Board of Selectmen will vote on a proposed guaranteed maximum price — or GMP — for the project provided by the School Modernization Building Committee. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Wheeler High School media center. The proposed GMP of $33,875,455 is lower than the maximum approved in the resolution the town passed back in May 2016.

If the board approves the maximum price, the town will then deliver that price to U.S. Department of Agriculture's rural loan program for loan approval. If USDA approves it, the town will then award bids, and Downes Construction Co. will mobilize and move toward breaking ground around Feb. 15.

Downes Construction is the construction manager for the project, while Rusty Malik of Quisenberry Arcari Architects is the prinicipal architect.

"This is the final stretch," said Pamela Potemri, chairwoman of the School Modernization Building Committee. "We're extremely aware of making sure we've done our due diligence and anticipated everything."

Potemri added that the committee has been dedicated to ensuring it can confidently say this is the best GMP, and hopes to return money to the town. The committee will present the maximum price at the selectmen meeting Tuesday.

Approved in a tight vote during a 2016 referendum, the project will renovate the elementary school, build a new combined middle and high school wing attached to the gymatorium, end the use of the tunnel under Norwich-Westerly Road and address issues with the roof at the Board of Education's central offices.

The entire project is expected to be completed in 2020 and will involve different phases beginning with renovations for the gymatorium's additions on March 1 through Oct. 1. Then in March 2019, renovations will focus on the elementary school.

There still remains an aspect of the project that has not yet been definitively determined though, and that is what the town will do with the existing middle high school building. 

The committee elected to defer possible demolition of the building until after the project is already underway. This delay also contributes to the committee having a lower budgeted number.

Potmeri said deferring demolition and rebidding it at a later date helps the committee ensure the project stays within budget and also allows more time for the town to explore the possibility of having a new tennant move into the building.

Adding to excitement surrounding the advancement of the project was news that the project's financing cost was going to be lower than expected.

First Selectman Mike Urgo said USDA has elected to close the the loan as three separate loans, and the town has also received a waiver on a requirement that the school must be a certain size based on enrollment. The waiver could save the town $1.1 million to $1.5 million, Urgo said.

That savings is important for a project that has consistently been at the heart of much contentious debate in town. The referendum in which the project was approved saw very large voter turnout and passed by just a three-vote margin. A result later confirmed in a recount.

Potemri said the close vote was something the committee tried to keep in mind throughout the entire process.

"I think we have as a committee been so cognizant of the close vote and want to represent not just the people that said, 'yes,' but also everyone who said, 'no,'" Potmeri said. "If there was a chance we could save money, we had to do it."

She said that the committee worked to stay within its budget and was very aware of accounting for every dollar spent. The group also rebid items that came in higher than expected.

One of the resolution's requirements stating the project not exceed $1.59 million in cost until after the the town had received written grant commitments from the state for at least 46.07 percent of the fully eligible costs of the project, also factored in as well.

And although the town received the necessary grant commitments as of Oct. 31, 2017, the committee has not yet exceeded its original $1.59 million budget, Urgo said.

"The building committee has done a really fantastic job," Urgo said. "They've spent a lot of time making sure we have a viable project that meets the needs of the town."

c.clark@theday.com

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