May 24, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford's school building committee got two pieces of troubling news Tuesday: The cost of renovations at Hartford Public High School could exceed the $105 million budget, and the plan to build University High School for Science & Engineering has hit a snag that could delay construction and drive up costs.
The committee Tuesday approved more than $500,000 in change orders for Hartford Public, along with a plan to spend up to $100,000 for unplanned gas lines into a culinary arts classroom, leaving the school with just over $200,000 in contingency funds, said James Keaney, program director for Diggs Construction, the firm overseeing the project.
The construction is expected to continue at Hartford Public for another eight months and while some additional changes in the original plans have already been anticipated, there is little room left for surprises or changes.
"This project is at significant risk of overrunning our cap of $105 million," Keaney said.
Keaney said he isn't sure whether the state will reimburse the city for expenses that run over the budget. In the Spring 2005, the legislature approved adding $20 million to the project's budget. The state reimburses the city 78 percent of approved costs.
The project to run gas lines into the culinary arts room may not reach its spending limit, officials said, but the committee isn't banking on that.
The original plans for the school called for electric stoves, but a donor gave Hartford Public commercial grade equipment that requires gas. In order to run a top-flight program to prepare students for jobs in the culinary arts, the school should use the commercial equipment, said Superintendent Robert Henry.
In a separate development, University High has run into a new round of trouble over ground water.
The project to build a $34 million magnet school on the University of Hartford campus had hit a glitch when city officials learned the university was building new athletic fields and planned to resolve a wetlands problem by diverting water to a spot where Hartford wanted to build a road to the school.
The university solved that problem by diverting water from the wetlands to another part of the campus, said David Isgur, university spokesman.
With that issue resolved, the state Department of Environmental Protection was poised to grant a permit for the new school and the new road, Isgur said
But homeowners in the area requested a public hearing to express their concerns about runoff that the construction might cause in the neighborhood around Annie Fisher School. The school would be built in a 100-year flood plain for the Park River, and residents are wondering whether the school construction would contribute to the possibility of flooding.
On Thursday at 6:30 p.m., university and city officials will meet with residents at Annie Fisher School to talk about the project and to try to persuade them to withdraw their request for a public hearing.
The time it would take to hold a hearing could delay construction three to six months, said Mayor Eddie A. Perez, chairman of the building committee. He said that could lead to increased construction costs.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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