The expansion and renovation of Hartford Public High School, which began as an $82 million project in 1997 and has increased in cost steadily since, will require an additional $8 million to complete, city officials say.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez will ask the city council tonight to increase the project budget to $113 million from its current $105 million. Perez recommends transferring funds from balances left over from other schools projects to cover the increase.
It is unclear whether the city will ask the state Department of Education and the state legislature to approve the additional expenditure and reimburse the city at 79 percent, or simply absorb the extra cost itself.
State legislators have approved previous increases but grumbled about the rising costs, particularly in comparison with other school projects across the state. Middletown, for example, is building a new high school for $109 million.
Recent claims by contractors for millions in alleged unpaid bills are the latest in a series of problems that have convulsed the Hartford High project over the past 11 years. Since the project began, there have been two architecture firms and two construction managers.
Working with the final construction manager, Fluor NE — which was hired without going out to bid — was particularly challenging, according to Charles Crocini, the city's director of capital projects. Last spring, Fluor threatened a work stoppage because of a payment dispute. The city had withheld nearly $4 million, much of it involving change orders. The work stoppage was ultimately averted and an agreement for payment reached.
Fluor, a multinational corporation, is closing its Northeast operations, Crocini said, so employees at the Hartford Public work site hunted for other jobs. "They changed management structures on that project six times. It's been a nightmare," Crocini said.
Fluor has a claim in with the city for more than $1 million in expenses and two subcontractors have filed claims that amount to more than $3 million. The School Building Committee confines its discussions about the claims to closed-door executive sessions, so it is unclear what additional claims might be pending.
The bulk of Fluor's claim covers costs that the construction manager says were incurred because of delays in construction.
When construction is delayed, the costs of material and labor can increase, and subcontractors may pay overtime and bring in extra labor in an attempt to get back on schedule. It is not always clear who is at fault for various delays and therefore who — the city or the construction manager — is responsible for covering the increases.
City officials are negotiating with the contractors to settle the claims and Crocini said they need to have the money on hand to pay out the settlements.
There have been several significant delays caused by conditions in the existing structure that that contractors did not anticipate, Crocini said. For example, when it was discovered that existing steel columns were not fire-proofed, the covers had to be removed from all of them in order to add fire-proofing material and then the masonry had to be restored around them at a cost of $1.6 million.
It was also discovered that the swimming pool had been leaking for a long time and chemicals from the pool water corroded the structure beneath the pool, Crocini said. The repairs to the pool are still not finished. Because a pump in the basement beneath the pool failed recently, water seeped back into the pool, making it impossible to seal the foundation.
A large room — the size of a small gym — on the first floor of the building also remains unfinished. Crocini said that the school district does not have a plan for that space and there is no money in the project budget to finish it.
Meanwhile, Andrea Comer, a school board member, resigned from the School Building Committee Tuesday. Comer advocated aggressively for policies to ensure that city residents were hired for the many school building and renovation projects. Comer cited time constraints in her resignation letter.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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