Oversight change tightens school renovation budget

Oversight change tightens school renovation budget

SMITHFIELD – Town Council President Suzy Alba says the cost savings from switching to a general contractor from a construction manager at-risk for the upcoming school renovation project will allow greater improvements as part of the “most significant bond issue” the town has faced.

Rescinding the request for proposals for a construction manager at-risk will save the town $2.5 million to $3 million in overhead costs, according to Town Manager Randy Rossi.

Rossi was not able to give cost estimates for a general contractor, but said expected savings will go back into school renovations.

As co-chairman of the School Building Committee, Rossi said the Rhode Island Department of Education recommended the switch to a general contractor to stay in line with the promises made to the agency and taxpayers.

“They’re expecting the project scope and outcome to be what they were presented. Otherwise, we are not fulfilling what was coming to taxpayers or department heads,” Alba said.

The scope of the elementary school reconfiguration was previously scaled back to meet the voter-approved $45 million budget.

The council voted 3-2 to rescind the request for proposals for a manager at-risk during Tuesday’s meeting.

Alba and Councilors Michael Lawton and Dina Cerra voted to approve the motion, while Maxine Cavanagh and Sean Kilduff voted against it.

Cerra opposed the idea at the Sept. 18 meeting, but changed her mind. She had pushed to table the item to go back to the School Building Committee, of which she’s a member, to further discuss the item.

She and members of the audience Tuesday expressed concerns that change orders might put costs over the $45 million budget for the project, and the town would then be in trouble.

After further discussion and a presentation by project manager Colliers International, Cerra said she supported the change.

A construction manager at-risk costs more than a general contractor, but guarantees a budget for the project.

A general contractor, leaders emphasized Tuesday, might bring change orders that could take the project over budget.

Business owner and resident Jackson Despres said he never felt the estimates for the school reconfiguration were accurate.

“It’s totally unrealistic for what the town is trying to accomplish,” he said.

Resident Tom Hodgkins, who spoke against the change at the previous meeting, said he would support it if protection were put in place in the general contractor’s contract that would impose fines for going over budget.

“The main issue is that the town is giving no protection to the taxpayer should it go over budget,” Hodgkins said.

Cavanagh said she could not support using a general contractor because she felt the project, which would have construction at three elementary schools occurring at the same time, needs oversight.

“I think the building committee has made a mistake,” she said.