$20M in renovations to greet returning students

Posted 8/24/23

“Even though you wouldn’t know,” Steve Gothberg said Friday of renovations nearing completion at Warwick Neck School, “it looks like a bomb went off.”

It was an …

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$20M in renovations to greet returning students


“Even though you wouldn’t know,” Steve Gothberg said Friday of renovations nearing completion at Warwick Neck School, “it looks like a bomb went off.”

It was an appropriate description for the scene at the school where yellow caution tape fluttered from the roof, ceiling titles were missing from corridors and classrooms and materials from air ducts to pipes were stockpiled in the all-purpose room.

Abby Ahlborg, who attended the school and lives in Warwick, paid close attention to where the materials were being placed, ensuring there were clear paths for the more than 60 people working on the job. She is a laborer and daughter of Glenn Ahlborg, vice president of Ahlborg Construction that won the contract for the work.

“Construction is in my blood,” she said outlining her plan to take up construction management at New England Institute of Technology after graduating from CCRI.  Work at Warwick Neck and most of the projects that went into full swing once schools closed on June 26 doesn’t stop for weekends or holidays with the exception of July 4, Ahlborg said.

Gothberg, director of construction & capital projects, won’t swear everything will be completed by the time students return to Warwick Neck.  A possible delay is the installation of new windows that started arriving Friday. These are no ordinary windows.

Because the school is within a mile of the bay, building codes require windows to be rated for hurricanes. Gothberg said like so many other materials affect by the supply chain, the windows weren’t easy to get.  If necessary, his plan is to complete window installations after classes are done for the day or on weekends.

Warwick Neck is not his only source of anxiety.

At Greenwood crews are making temporary boiler repairs aimed at getting the school through the winter and spring so that when it closes next year it is replaced by a roof HVAC system in the summer. Gas fired HVAC systems have become the standard replacement for boiler systems throughout the district. Also giving Gothberg heartache is delivery of an ATS (automatic transfer switch) for Winman Middle School. The switch that would trigger a generator during a power outage needs to be wired into an electric panel even though the district is still waiting for the generator. A company has been hired to pick up the switch from the med-west manufacturer that, Gothberg said, wouldn’t ship it.

The scope of the work undertaken this summer is daunting. It covers projects in 13 of the city’s 19 schools. It totals $20 million that is being paid principally from the $56 million bond approved by voters in 2020. Some of the work is also being paid from the 2018 bond of $40 million.

Gothberg said that in order to gain state reimbursement of 35 percent, the city must complete projects within five years of bond issuance.  Gothberg said, where eligible, the city has gained an additional 5 to 10 percent “bonus” reimbursement.

Apart from fractures in the supply chain, inflation has thrown the department a curve ball. To estimate construction costs, Gothberg divided the cost of renovations to Vets Middle School by the number of square feet and came up with $33 a foot. Then to estimate the cost of similar renovations to other schools and come up with a budget he increased that number by 27 percent to $42 a square foot.

That is no where near what the costs are in the wake of the pandemic and the impact of inflation. Recently completed projects are costing $98 to $114 a square foot.  Faced with those cost constraints, Gothberg is prioritizing the “worst” and most critical projects and then “then we figure out where we go from there.”

He looks to keep money budgeted for a school with the school rather than moving it around. That means if for example an HVAC system is higher than budgeted, other less critical projects for the that school may be dropped.  Conversely, when projects come in at less than projected as happened with Holliman, the money stays with Holliman. The $100,000 saved in paving the school parking lot went into additional paving and the cost of unearthing a gigantic heating oil tank.

“When you find stuff, you fix it,” said Gothberg. And he’s found plenty of “get by” fixes such as the partial removal of asbestos from a boiler room that he speculates is a product of budget and maintenance crew cuts.

At the Aug. 8 School Committee meeting, Gothberg and his team were praised for the long hours and hard work it has taken to schedule and oversee so many projects this summer.

In addition to projects mentioned at Greenwood and Warwick Neck, Gothberg reported the following:

HOLLIMAN: Major paving, replacement of a major roof drain and a drainage system will be complete.

HOXSIE:  Installation of ADA door openers will be completed.

NORWOOD: ADA upgrades and new exterior doors have been installed. Windows should be completed by the opening of school. Site project work at the school includes sidewalks, paving of the bus drop off and binder to the play area behind the school.

PARK: ADA upgrades requiring plumbing, toilet partitions and millwork.

SCOTT: ADA upgrades, new roof and machine room siding.

CAREER AND TECH CENTER: HVAC project for electric classroom completed.

VETS ANNEX: Reroofing of the annex to be completed by the end of this month.

SHERMAN: Renovation, during which time the school operated from the former Gorton Junior High, has been completed except for some balancing of the HVAC. The school will open on time.

WINMAN: (a two-year renovation project) apart from the generator mentioned earlier, the school has a new roof, minor interior work is being completed, window installations are nearing completion as are new sidewalks and paving.

PLAYGROUNDS: With the department waiting for confirmation of a shipping date on playground structures ordered months ago, playground renovations at Greenwood, Hoxsie, Oakland Beach, Sherman and WELC are not expected to be completed by the opening of schools on Sept. 7.

schools, reno, renovations, renovated