Estimated Costs of School Construction Higher than Expected

October 30, 2015


by Barbara O’Brien

Windham School Board members, as well as some of the residents who attended the board’s Oct. 20 meeting, said they were surprised and dismayed by the estimated cost of the two options currently being considered to ease the space problem plaguing the school district.

Estimates of “probable construction costs” were presented by Eckman Construction for Options C and D, both of which involve renovations and an addition to Golden Brook School.  School board members had narrowed down the options during the Oct. 6 meeting.  For Option C, the total construction cost is estimated to range from $24.612 million to a high of $26.990 million.  Option D is estimated to cost slightly less than Option C, ranging from a low of $24.299 million to a high of $26.257 million.

These estimates do not include any renovations or addition to Windham Middle School, which is also slated for construction work as a part of this proposed project.  The anticipated cost of construction at the middle school ranges from $3.173 million to a high of $.,643 million.

For Option C, a structural review of the existing building would be needed to evaluate the feasibility of constructing a second floor on the existing foundations and walls.  The results of that structural analysis might impact the estimated costs.  The estimate for Option D is based on the assumption that the existing foundations, wall and roof structure, in the areas to be renovated, would remain as is.  Furthermore, Option D includes construction in an area that appears to have significant underground utilities.  Further investigation would be required to accurately determine any cost impact of the situation.

“The cost is higher than I anticipated,” Vice-Chairman Tom Murray said.  Chairman Ken Eyring agreed with Murray’s assessment of the probable price tag.

Preston Hunter of Eckman Construction explained that the estimated costs presented to school board members should be considered as “a starting point.”  “This is a long process,” Hunter said.  “We’re only at the bottom of the first inning. The goal of this meeting is to figure out which direction we’re going.

“These are preliminary numbers,” he said.  “They are not set in stone.”  “Our intention is to meet the educational needs of students and the budgetary needs of the community.”

During the public input session of the meeting, former school board member Michael Joanis expressed his dissatisfaction with the estimated costs, stating that, based on his estimates, the total expense for the construction project and related items would total a whopping $37.5 million.  Referring to the proposal that was put to voters last March, but which failed at the polls, Joanis said, “I’m very concerned that a $15 million project has turned into $35 million in the last six months.”  Joanis said he feels the process has gotten “out of control.”  Additionally, Joanis said it’s his opinion that structural upgrades would be required to put a second floor on Golden Brook and that site work is likely to cost more than quoted by Eckman Construction.

Murray said that Joanis was not being accurate when he compared last year’s $15 million proposal to the current options.  “The entire scope of the proposal has changed,” Murray said.  “Another 20,000 square feet has been added,” he noted.

Joanis said he doesn’t believe renovating and adding on to Golden Brook makes sense when the school district owns 70 acres of land off London Bridge Road; the site of a proposed seventh and eighth grade school that failed to gain voter approval several years ago.  The site is adjacent to Windham High School.  Renovating and adding on to Golden Brook “is not a viable option,” Joanis said, urging the school board “to scrap this idea.”

Former school board member Michelle Farrell noted that the school district has been struggling with the space crunch for more than a decade.  “Whatever we do is going to cost between $25 and $30 million,” Farrell said, adding that she feels a brand-new middle school would be the best value for taxpayers.  “A new school is the way to go,” resident Danyelle Stuckart said.

Architect Ingrid Nichols responded to Joanis’ comments by saying, “To build new would cost about eight or nine million dollars more than renovating.”  Referring to the suggestions that a new seventh and eighth grade school be built, instead of tackling issues at Golden Brook and Windham Middle School, Nichols said, “We don’t have all the parameters to answer these questions yet, but we could look into it fairly quickly.”  Nichols did point out that operating costs would escalate if the district decides to build a fifth school.  “There are a lot of unknowns,” she said.

“Based on a square foot number, new construction is always going to be higher,” Murray said.  “If a new school was the best option, that’s what would have been presented,” Murray continued.  “The costs to build new would far exceed renovating.”

“No way, at this point, are we going to have a proposal for a new middle school ready to put on the ballot next March,” school board member Daniel Popovici-Muller said, but said he would still like to have comparison figures to share with the public.  “This is a conversation we’re going to need to have to get voter support at the ballot,” Eyring commented.

School board member Dennis Senibaldi said, “We have to find a way to compromise or nothing will ever get passed.”  Senibaldi said he was already seeing a division of opinions just among those who attended the meeting.  “We’re in a tough spot,” he said.  S

hool board member Rob Breton said he’s “open-minded.”  “I’m open to looking at all data,” Breton said.

The space problems in the Windham School District have been exacerbated by the loss of the portable classrooms at Golden Brook School, Eyring said.  The 10-classroom portable was demolished about a year and a half ago when the extent of a mold and mildew problem was discovered and school board members decided that the aging facility was not worth renovating.  Since that time, five of the third grade classes have been housed in a section of Windham High School.  “If we don’t fix the space issue soon, we will be looking at more portables, again,” Eyring said.  “We’re not being fair to our children if we don’t find a happy compromise.”

After vetting the possibility of combining certain aspects of options C and D and looking into the potential costs of building a new seventh and eighth grade school, representatives of Banwell Architects and Eckman Construction will, once again, meet with the school board.  That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov 3, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Community Development Building; adjacent to townhHall.  “We need to be focused and ready to make a decision,” Senibaldi told his fellow board members.  In the meantime, the clock continues to tick toward the deadline to present a proposal to voters.