By contributing reporter Jennifer Bonniwell
The town of Wellesley has committed to $18.03 million in the first round of construction contracts on the new Hardy Elementary School–and so far the project remains on budget.
However, Wellesley’s second new elementary school project still has more than two-thirds of the construction bids yet to be determined, and the project manager urged caution.
“Although our first round is under budget, we are still recommending holding our original budget pending the upcoming bids for the additional 70% of the project in the next couple of months,” said Jeff D’Amico, Senior Project Manager of Compass Project Management, the firm tasked with building both of Wellesley’s new elementary schools. Hunnewell School construction currently is underway and is slated to open in February 2024.
If the next round of Hardy School construction bids are higher than budgeted, then the School Committee would be forced to return to Town Meeting to ask for more funding. D’Amico said bids will be completed by mid-March and he will have updated construction cost estimate in early April—before the next Town Meeting.
In a joint meeting with the School Committee and Wellesley Select Board, the Wellesley Permanent Building Committee (PBC) unanimously approved $18,032,866 in construction costs that include demolition of the old Hardy building, as well as orders for concrete, structural steel, roofing and foundation waterproofing. In total, these costs cover about 31% of the total project. (See detailed breakdown at 28:46 of the 1/12/23 Permanent Building Committee meeting).
The PBC also unanimously voted to grant a notice to proceed with construction.
The current estimated construction budget is $56.3 million, which is just $57,574 over the original $56.2 million that was appropriated for construction funding, D’Amico said. Importantly, D’Amico said the current construction estimate is $1.67 million under the $57.9 million budget that Compass had put forth over the past few months. D’Amico noted that the $57.9 million budget was not the current budget because it had been revised by the PBC over the past few months. (See discussion at about 27:00 in 1/12/23 meeting).
“It’s good news,” PBC member Tom Goemaat said.
“Getting us much much closer to where we need to be,” said PBC Chairman Michael Tauer.
Past the Point of No Return
With these first-round contracts approved, Wellesley is now past the point of no return on building a new Hardy school. If the next phase of construction exceeds the budget, the School Committee will be forced to return to Town Meeting to ask for more funding—a scary proposition since it’s possible costs could skyrocket past what the town believes is reasonable to spend on a new elementary school.
In October 2022, the PBC and project team members considered delaying bidding to avoid committing any funding until the full cost was known. Under that scenario, bidding would have been delayed until April, when the Guaranteed Maximum Price is available. However, that would have made it impossible for Hardy to open on time in fall 2024–and affected the town’s plan to redistrict and reduce from seven elementary schools to six. During that meeting, the PBC authorized Compass to move forward with the two-phased bidding process.
On Thursday, none of the School Committee or PBC members asked D’Amico about whether there was any reason to delay accepting the bids or the likelihood that construction costs would exceed what the town was willing to spend.
The only question before the vote was about descoping, which is a phase of bidding in which subcontractors can submit multiple bids to continue to compete for a project even if the first bid was not the lowest. Select Board member Beth Sullivan Woods asked if descoping affects parity between Hardy and Hunnewell. D’Amico said it does not.
No one participated in the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.
Groundbreaking for Hardy
After approving the first round of construction contracts, the PBC discussed groundbreaking for Hardy, potentially on Thursday, April 6, 2023, which also happens to be the Town of Wellesley’s birthday.
The event would likely be held during the school day so students could participate.
The date is not yet confirmed.
How Did We Get Here
Wellesley residents voted to approve debt exclusions to fund construction of new Hardy and Hunnewell elementary schools in December 2021. The special election followed Town Meeting’s approval for the projects’ funding in October 2021. Both schools will accommodate up to 365 students and are slated to open in fall 2024.
The Hunnewell project began first, with demolition in summer 2022 and construction ongoing. Students from Hunnewell were distributed to the town’s other six elementary schools.
The town has made parity between the two schools an important factor in the design of Hardy. This has posed difficulty in keeping to a budget. While Hunnewell’s construction costs were fixed after contracts awarded, costs to build a comparable school for Hardy have skyrocketed. In April and October 2022, project managers were forced to make design changes to keep costs down for Hardy. While the PBC and project managers were able to bring the estimated construction budget back to the appropriated amount, committee members expressed concern about what would happen if construction costs continued to increase.
The next updates about construction costs for Hardy will likely occur during the PBC meetings in mid- to late March. The PBC meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.