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Building cochairs resign as Concord-Carlisle officials vow to bring high school project under control

Posted by Evan Allen  July 6, 2012 09:48 AM

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Less than two weeks after the state suspended grant payments to the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District for its $92.6 million high school project, citing concerns that its budget, scope and schedule had veered off the tracks, the Concord-Carlisle Building Committee cochairs resigned and district officials vowed to bring the project back under control.

“I was very surprised and disturbed by the [Massachusetts School Building Authority] letter and the suspension of payments,” said Superintendent Diana Rigby at a joint meeting of the School Committee and the Building Committee on Thursday night. “We will respond quickly to comply.”

Without the $28.8 million in reimbursement from the state, the district can’t complete the project, said John Flaherty, Concord-Carlisle’s deputy superintendent for finance and operations and a member of the building committee, in an interview.

In May, according to district officials, the project appeared to be poised to run about $10 million over its $75.1 million construction budget. Recently, that number has shrunk to an estimated $3 million to $5 million.

Rigby said that she expects the project to be back on budget by the time the district submits its design development plans to the agency in August.

In a harsh letter dated June 26, the agency outlined its concerns about the project and requested nine pieces of information or action steps from the district to avoid termination of the reimbursement agreement.

Among the demands are that the district provide detailed breakdowns of architectural and project management fees as well as acknowledgments of the agency’s expectations for the project.
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Rigby said that the replacement of the two cochairs was not a reaction to the state’s letter. Because the project is moving into a new phase, she said, the switch would have been made regardless.

Cochair Jerry Wedge sent a letter of resignation, dated July 3, that sounded an optimistic note about the project’s future. “I believe that the project is well on its way in meeting our scope and budget goals,” he wrote. “Now I feel it is the appropriate time for me to step down from the Committee.”

Cochair Karla Johnson stepped down from her position as cochair as well, and will head a subcommittee in the Building Committee, said Rigby.

The Building Committee voted unanimously to appoint Carlisle resident Stan Durlacher as the new chair. Durlacher has a long background in design and construction, and served as the state Assistant Secretary of Transportation, overseeing part of the Big Dig. He is currently the founder and CEO of Capstone XRM, a large scale project management software firm.

In the June 26 letter, the agency singled out the district’s effort to attach to the school building a gym that the agency expected to be built separately:

“Despite the MSBA’s repeated, express stipulation that the alternative gym must remain separate from the building as a condition of funding, the detailed design submittal… shows the complete incorporation of the ineligible alternative gym into the building in direct violation of the terms of the [Project Funding Agreement].”

The Building Committee and School Committee both voted to acknowledge that the alternative gym must remain detatched.

“Even though getting the gym closer to the building was a more effective and better design, it will never be raised again,” said Durlacher. “Because it’s gonna fall on deaf ears and really irritate me.”

Though the projected costs of the project had ballooned over budget, officials noted that actual costs have not.

The district is currently on schedule to hit the September 2015 completion date of the project, said Flaherty, though the originally scheduled ground-breaking has been pushed back from this summer to this fall.

A spokesman for the School Building Authority said that this is not the first time the agency has stopped payment to a district.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a common occurrence, but it is not unprecedented,” said Dan Collins, School Building Authority press secretary. “We’ve been working in collaboration with the district, and we look forward to resolving this concern with them.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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