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‘Sticker shock’ hits with Holland Hill project

December 8, 2016 GMT

FAIRFIELD — Selectmen want to see a bit more homework done on the Holland Hill School building project.

In an update to the board, Building Committee Chairman Tom Quinn even admitted he was bringing what he called “sticker shock” with the $20.8 million price tag. Similar in size and scope to the recently completed Riverfield School project, it was expected to cost about $14 million to meet education specifications.

There has been no funding request submitted at this point for the renovation, which will include additions to the kitchen and five general classrooms.

“That includes all the costs, soft costs, project costs, construction costs,” Quinn said. “What we’re doing now is taking a hard look at every piece of that estimate.”

The school was built in 1954, and the gymnasium added in 1972. “Basically, this building and infrastructure has been untouched. It’s not too dissimilar to what we had at Riverfield,” Quinn said.

Quinn said part of the increased cost for Holland Hill is because educational needs differ. One example is a resource room needed for a language arts specialist.

If the cost can’t be trimmed, the selectmen said, it would mean putting off other future school projects at Mill Hill and Sherman schools.

“How do we go from $14 million to $21 million,” First Selectman Mike Tetreau said. “Does that mean Mill Hill is going to be $30 million?”

“It’s sticker shock,” Selectman Ed Bateson said. “In my head, this blows any long term planning, it just does. It’s tough to even look at the future.”

“If this does cost $21 million, it pushes off the Mill Hill project, it pushes off the Sherman project, because the town has ‘x’ amount of money it can spend each year on debt service,” Tetreau said. “It’s not just one project, one school, as we do this.”

Tetreau asked that the building committee prepare a side by side comparison between Riverfield and Holland Hill, showing the different components and their costs. “It would be great to see the ed spec costs, by section or function, at Riverfield, some kind of macro look, and what that means at Holland Hill,” Tetreau said. “What are the drivers, where are we going.”

Quinn said there is more site work needed at Holland Hill than there was at Riverfield, due to the topography of the 12.5 acres and a decision to steer clear of wetlands on the property.

“We understand the magnitude,” Quinn said. “There is nothing up front and clear and present, and you can say you can take that $3 million. We have to go back in and make sure we’ve done the best job possible.” He also said the committee has not built the “golden arches,” but rather a “solid school.”

According to architect Brian Stone, the project will eliminate the five portables at the school, add a serving line in the cafeteria, improve traffic flow through the school property, and improve security..

“It’s a facility we feel is in keeping with the program that is needed, but not excessive in style or size,” Stone said.

Quinn said the project is very consistent to the ed specs. “We have a lot of work cut out in front of us to attempt to get to a place where it’s an idea that can be voted on,” he said.

“Our idea was not to change the program on this first pass,” Stone said, but to look at what options are available.

“This is one of the things we talked about,” Selectman Chris Tymniak said. “We’re addressing a real number which, frankly, to me is scary. We have to throw it all out on the table.”

Quinn noted that there has yet to be any testing for PCBs at the school.

greilly@ctpost.com; @GreillyPost