FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- A report from the Fairfield Ludlowe High School Building Committee to the town’s Board of Selectmen turned into a two-and-a-half-hour marathon, where more questions were raised than answered over the ballooning construction budget.
The Building Committee, which last reported to the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 18, was scheduled to present an update on the construction schedule and outline what drove the three-phase project from an estimated $11.8 budget to $14.9 million.
Tensions were high during the meeting, which included the Building Committee’s chair and representatives from Fairfield’s Board of Education, Gilbane Building Co. and Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
At times, frustration and confusion over charts that lacked the information the Board of Selectmen had sought spilled over into First Selectman Michael Tetreau’s comments.
“How many weeks notice do we need to give for an update on numbers that are a year old,” Tetreau said in a raised voice. He also suggested that the building committee was unprepared and asked more than once whether the presentation needed to be pushed back “again.”
The construction project at the Unquowa Road school is broken into three phases. Phase 1 would see about 100,000 square feet of roof replacement. Phase 2 would create two large additions to the cafeteria and Webster Wing. Phase 3 would replace PCB-infested windows.
The Building Committee explained that in its translation of design from concept to construction it would be able to complete Phase 1, 2 and part of 3 under budget, but would not be able to finish Phase 3 with less than $14.9 million.
Furthermore, they said the price of windows could fluctuate as they fight with the Environmental Protection Agency for approval of the project, which has delayed securing a bid for the third phase.
The Board of Selectmen didn't accept the soft costs argument, which the Building Committee identified as the main driver for the jump in budget. The selectmen returned to one line in the documents outlining the budget for the multimillion-dollar project.
"There's one line with the overage, and there's no breakout of it," Tetreau said, referencing a line item labeled as a construction fee that started at $3.6 million and now sits at $5.9 million.
After hours of back-and-forth conversation, Tetreau said the Building Committee would need to break out this line item to explain the jump in costs to “raise confidence” in the project moving forward.
Selectman Sheila Marmion said the town needs to learn from this experience.
For Tetreau, the entire process has been dizzying.
“It just seems that we were blown out of the water,” he said regarding the ballooning budget. “It just seems that we were blown out of the water on day one and we haven’t recovered yet.”
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