Questioning whether the city can build two new high schools for $350 million, despite assurances from school administrators that that is possible, the City Council is moving ahead with obtaining a …
Questioning whether the city can build two new high schools for $350 million, despite assurances from school administrators that that is possible, the City Council is moving ahead with obtaining a third look at the plans from an outside consultant.
On Tuesday, City Council President Steve McAllister met with Mayor Frank Picozzi and members of his staff to review the process of advertising for RFQs (request for qualifications), select a firm, negotiate a price and have a report to the council on June 5.
The report is expected to give the council information on whether to release $350 million the voters approved in November to build new Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools. The new schools would be constructed on the existing athletic fields and then the existing schools would be leveled to build the fields.
With inflation pushing the cost of materials and labor up, cost estimates for the project made last June came under question after voters approved the bond. Project architects subsequently contracted for a peer review of the numbers concluding that with “value engineering” the schools could be built.
There is more troubling the council and the administration than just the cost of the new schools. With rising interest rates and the current schedule of state reimbursements (the state is committed to reimbursing 52.5 percent of construction costs), they are looking at how carrying that debt will impact future taxes.
It has Mayor Picozzi worried.
Picozzi said Tuesday he’s been misquoted, but that wasn’t the case when he said last year, “we can’t let this put people out of their homes.” He pointed to the impact of bond payments on the city budget prior to completion of the schools when state reimbursements would kick in, which could be $9 million. Picozzi said he has talked with House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and there is movement to enable reimbursements during phases of construction that would reduce the cost of borrowing until the work is completed. Also, there is legislation to extend the 5-year window to complete school projects.
McAllister said Tuesday a five-member committee consisting of Councilmen Ed Ladouceur and Vincent Gebhart, two administration representatives and a member of the public would review and score RFQ responses. A cost for performing the work would be negotiated and paid for out of the council’s professional services budget account that currently stands at $100,000.
“We have enough to pay for this,” McAllister said, adding he doesn’t expect it to be anywhere near $100,000.
In a text David Testa, School Committee chair , said his expectation is that the estimates provided by whatever firm is selected for the job “would pretty much align with ours as long as the methodologies used are similar.”
The mechanics of council meetings over the next couple of months is also a consideration. In addition to selecting a consultant and considering whether to move ahead with the schools, McAllister noted the council will be acting on the mayor’s proposed budget, which is being finalized. Hearings are set for May 22 and 23 with May 25 being held if necessary.
McAllister is ready to get “another set of eyes” on building new high schools.
“I think people are really interested in this project,” he said.