North Adams school project back on track after general contractor bids are opened


NORTH ADAMS -- The renovation of the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School is back on budget.

General contractor bids came in close to pre-bid estimates, allowing city officials and School Building Committee members to breathe a sigh of relief at a meeting on Monday.

Connecticut-based PDS Engineering and Construction bid $21.98 million on the construction work at the school, about $130,000 more than pre-bid estimates. But the committee chose to adopt two alternate plans -- dropping air conditioning in hallways and artificial turf on the playground -- that saved more than $150,000, bringing the project over budget by only $24,000.

The $30 million renovation of the Conte Middle School, which was closed in 2009 when the district converted to a kindergarten through seventh grade and eighth through 12th grade system, is expected to be complete in fall 2015. Eighty percent of the costs will be funded through the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The former middle school building, once renovated, will replace the Sullivan Elementary School.

The city will look to finalize a contract with PDS Engineering in the coming weeks. Once the agreement is signed, the firm could be in North Adams in a matter of weeks, according to Ken Guyette, the project manager.

"This is a pleasant surprise," Guyette said of the bid results. "It's very good news."

Mayor Richard Alcombright had expressed concern that, after subcontractor bids came in about $900,000 above an estimated $12.1 million, the project would have to be re-bid -- likely delaying the scheduled 2015 opening. But with a general contracting bid on target, the committee was ready to move forward on Monday.

Though it accepted the loss of hallway air conditioning and playground turf -- which will be replaced by cushioned wood chips, saving $49,000 -- the committee was able to keep $100,000 for new playground equipment in the plan. The subtraction of the playground materials was presented as a third alternate to general contractors, but was not considered by the committee on Monday.

"We had cautioned against jumping off a bridge right away with the $900,000 over-budget pre-filed sub[contractor bids], because this does typically happen," Guyette said.

The general contracting bids ranged from $21.98 million to $23.33 million, with PDS bidding the lowest amount in the four scenarios presented by the city.

Guyette said his firm has worked with PDS Engineering on several projects in the past, and that "as it is with any firm, it depends on the team you get."

PDS Engineering has worked on numerous public projects in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, according to project architect Margo Jones. Guyette said that every bidder went through a prequalification process, and is "highly rated."

To move forward, the project still requires one land easement.

"It's just a matter of coming up with acceptable language," said Alcombright, who later added it should not be a problem.

The School Building Committee also agreed to form a finance subcommittee, in order to handle invoices that are likely to start flowing from the project in the near future.

To reach Adam Shanks:
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