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Bids for Stamford school project over budget

April 4, 2017 GMT

STAMFORD — A trade association is calling on the city to amend an agreement requiring organized labor for the build-out of the New School at Strawberry Hill after just two bids were received.

The bids, according to a document obtained by The Advocate, also exceeded estimates by nearly $17 million, each bid coming in at roughly $66 million.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Connecticut blamed the union-only project labor agreement, known as PLA, for the lack of competition and cost overruns.

“If Stamford wants to attract more competitive bids and bring the project back on budget, they should remove the PLA from the job and rebid the project immediately,” Chris Syrek, CT ABC’s president, said Monday in a news release.

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“PLAs are discriminatory contracts designed to discourage open competition and ensure that only union contractors bid on the project,” he wrote. “There are zero non-union bids on this job and now Stamford taxpayers will be left holding the bill for a school that is over budget.”

Proposals for the third — and costliest — phase of the project were due March 31. It’s part of an estimated $77 million expansion of the “New School at 200 Strawberry Hill,” an interdistrict, magnet school that opened last fall as an extension of Rogers’ International Baccalaureate program.

The project, which is partially funded by a state grant, involves construction of a new wing south of the main building designed to house classrooms, offices, a gym, cafeteria and media center.

It’s not clear whether the city plans to negotiate with the existing bidders, cut items from the budget or seek additional funding to increase the project’s budget.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Mayor David Martin acknowledged that the bids are “substantially higher than our construction cost estimate.”

“We remain committed to this project and are already working to bring the bid numbers in line with our available funds,” he said. “There are several different steps we are considering. Right now we are carefully analyzing the bids as well as our cost estimate to determine what factors might account for the differential. Once we have additional details and information, we will make a determination about how to proceed.”

A public information session that was scheduled for Thursday to update the public on the project was canceled Monday morning.

In a February interview, City Engineer Lou Casolo said he hoped a contract would be awarded in April so that construction could start in the spring.

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The goal is to move students to the new wing when the addition is completed in the summer of 2018. At that point, the original 1925 structure would undergo renovations and the adjacent 1964 structure on the north side would be demolished to make room for a new auditorium.

All three structures will be connected once the project is complete. A new grade will be added each year until the school serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade by 2023.

Syrek said his association has been advising the city against the use of PLAs since last year. He said such agreements come with mandates that “make it almost impossible for a non-union contractor to bid on a project.”

“We basically laid the case that these agreements are designed to steer the work and make sure that all the work is done by union labor,” Syrek said in an interview.

CT ABC wants Stamford to pull the agreement and rebid the project. Otherwise, Syrek said, the city will have to cut items from the project or increase its budget.

“Either way the taxpayers of Stamford will end up being the losers,” he said.

Sharon Beadle, a spokeswoman for Stamford Public Schools, said district officials would not comment because the project is not under their jurisdiction.

noliveira@stamfordadvocate.com, 203-964-2265, @olivnelson