The cochairs of the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School Building Committee have resigned after the state suspended grant payments to the $92.6 million high school project because its budget, scope, and schedule had veered off track.
At the same time, district officials vowed to bring the project back under control.
“I was very surprised and disturbed by the letter and the suspension of payments” by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Superintendent Diana Rigby said during a joint meeting of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee and the building committee. “We will respond quickly to comply.”
Rigby said the cochairs leaving their oversight roles on the building panel was not related to the state’s letter, but rather because the construction project is entering a new phase.
Without the $28.8 million in reimbursement from the state, the district can’t complete the project, said John Flaherty, Concord-Carlisle’s deputy superintendent for finance and operations and a member of the building committee, in an interview.
In May, according to district officials, the project was poised to run about $10 million over its $75.1 million construction budget. Since then, the number has been reduced to an estimated $3 million to $5 million.
Rigby said that she expects the project to be back on budget by the time the district submits its design development plans to the state next month.
“The budget is $75 million. That’s where we will end up,” said Rigby.
In a harsh letter dated June 26, the school building agency outlined its concerns about the project, and requested nine pieces of information or action steps from the district to avoid termination of the reimbursement agreement. Among the demands are that the district provide detailed breakdowns of architectural and project management fees, as well as acknowledgments of the agency’s expectations for the project.
Rigby said that with the project moving into a new phase, the Concord-Carlisle School Building Committee would have been getting a new chairman regardless of the agency’s concerns.
Cochairman Jerry Wedge sent a letter of resignation, dated Tuesday, that sounded an optimistic note about the project’s future. “I believe that the project is well on its way in meeting our scope and budget goals,” he wrote. “Now I feel it is the appropriate time for me to step down from the committee.”
Karla Johnson stepped down from her position as cochairwoman, but will head one of the building panel’s subcommittees, said Rigby.
The building committee voted unanimously to appoint Carlisle resident Stan Durlacher as the new chairman.
Durlacher has a long background in design and construction, and served as assistant secretary in the state’s Department of Transportation in the early 1990s, overseeing part of the Big Dig.
He is the founder and chief executive of Capstone XRM, a large-scale project management software firm.
“Even without the letter, we would have probably made the same decisions,” said Rigby. “We needed architects for the first two years and now we have a project manager.”
In the June 26 letter, the state agency singled out the district’s effort to attach a gym to the school building even though the plan it had approved called for the gym to be built separately.
“Despite the MSBA’s repeated, express stipulation that the alternative gym must remain separate from the building as a condition of funding, the detailed design submittal . . . shows the complete incorporation of the ineligible alternative gym into the building in direct violation of the terms’’ of the reimbursement agreement, the letter stated.
Concord-Carlisle’s School Committee and the building committee both voted to acknowledge that the alternative gym must remain a separate structure.
“Even though getting the gym closer to the building was a more effective and better design, it will never be raised again,” said Durlacher.
Though the projected costs of the project had ballooned over its budget, officials noted that actual costs have not.
The project is on schedule to hit its September 2015 completion date, said Flaherty, even though the groundbreaking has been pushed back from this summer to the fall.
Thursday night’s meeting was attended by about 40 residents, some of whom praised the state for taking action to keep the project from getting too big and too expensive.
“I actually applaud the MSBA for trying to put some sanity into this process, because it’s really run crazy,” said Concord resident John Doyle.
A spokesman for the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Dan Collins, said that this is not the first time the agency has stopped payment to a district.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a common occurrence, but it is not unprecedented,” Collins said. “We’ve been working in collaboration with the district, and we look forward to resolving this concern with them.”