By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – The head of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) told Mayor Richard Kos last week that a wait of six weeks could have provided the city with additional funds for its renovation of the former Chicopee High School into a middle school.
As it now stands converting the high school building may cost the city $3 million more than it planned.
` At a meeting on March 21, Kos said the city would not bond any further for the project. The $38 million budget will receive an 80 percent reimbursement from the MSBA, but MSBA Executive Director Jack McCarthy explained the amount of money from the Commonwealth was capped with the agreement with the Bissonnette administration.
Now Kos is hoping the bids for the project will come in under the budget.
Kos said that a decade ago there was talk about renovating the building. “An existing building has hidden treasures,” he said. The mayor added the sum of $38 million appears to be “more a guesstimate instead of a real number.”
Norman Benjamin, the city project manager from ARCADIS, explained that as the renovation moved forward additional investigation into the building and its condition have increased the potential budget.
State Rep. Joseph Wagner discussed with McCarthy at the meeting that MSBA officials had warned city officials on October 2012 that a project such as this one usually comes in at a higher cost than first thought.
McCarthy said there was “push back” from Mayor Michael Bissonnette about delaying the project. He said the mayor told him, “Basically thanks for your warning, but we know what we’re doing here.”
Wagner asked McCarthy if the city “by not waiting two months transferred a shared risk to a total risk for the [school] district?” McCarthy replied, “Most likely.”
Benjamin said the goal for the project was to meet a deadline so the move of teachers and installation of equipment could have been done over the summer of 2015. He maintained that waiting would have slowed down the design process and delayed the opening of the school for a year.
The new middle school will take the place of the Fairview Veterans Memorial Middle School.
McCarthy reacted by stating, “It shouldn’t cost you a year. We can respectfully disagree.”
Understanding the city could not receive additional funding from the MSBA, Kos said, “I can’t yell at them [the MSBA]. They warned us.”
McCarthy added that this was the first time he had heard about the re-districting.