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The Board of Selectmen acted to bring the new community center closer to fruition April 16 after voting unanimously to accept a proposed project budget presented by the design firm of Caldwell & Walsh.
That budget plan was previously discussed and approved by Newtown’s Public Building & Site Commission, and its Chairman Robert Mitchell appeared with design firm representatives John Deren and Joe Giacobbe to field any questions from the selectmen.
Mr Mitchell said the project was progressing on schedule and on budget.
He told the selectmen while early bids for excavation and structural steel came in under budget, some other features for the facility, including drywall, flooring, and tile work, will be rebid in the coming weeks as part of an overall “value engineering” initiative.
“We reviewed the low bids and felt we could do better by rebidding,” Mr Mitchell told The Newtown Bee following the PBSC meeting.
Mr Mitchell said it was critical that a contingency fund be maintained by both the town and the builder, and said he was confident that certain features like an exterior deck and bocce court currently deferred can be completed within the existing budget scope.
“We looked at where to get some contingency back,” Mr Mitchell told selectmen, adding the PBSC was “very selective.”
“We deferred some items like the bocce court and rear patio that would not affect the functionality of the building but provided a minimal contingency,” Mr Mitchell said, adding that he was confident those features would be “put in at the end” of the construction.
Mr Deren told selectmen that he and his team at Caldwell & Walsh “came up with more than 30 items we could value engineer to downsize cost.” He assured the officials that “now we have all the right things to achieve the project” the community expects.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal told his colleagues that the time was now to approve the final construction budget because any further time spent to find more contingency money given the potential for tariffs being initiated on building products “could end up costing more than we can save.”
He said at this juncture, developers would “be looking for dimes and nickels.”
“Once we clear these hurdles and some contingency is released, I’ll work with community center and senior center advisory boards to prioritize what we put back in,” he said.
Mr Deren assured the selectmen that his team was confident in the scopes provided by the various bidders and contractors. And since the footprint of the building is now established, “there are very few unknowns” regarding unanticipated cost escalations.
Mr Mitchell told selectmen that the project has achieved a $250,000 contingency balance and the builder has $150,000.
“We wanted $500,000, so we’re close,” Mr Mitchell said, adding that the PBSC went back and looked at Sandy Hook School project to affirm the community center from a budget standpoint was “very much ahead of the curve.”
“We’re tight but very doable at this point,” he said. “I think the bocce court and patio will both come back.”
Mr Deren further assured, “We’re too far into the project to expect significant cost overruns.”
Speaking to one aspect of the community center budget, Mr Rosenthal reminded the selectmen that a planned exterior bathroom facility, designed for Fairfield Hills campus users and providing no inside access to the center, would be coming from the Fairfield Hills Authority.
“It’s something they wanted,” Mr Rosenthal said.
“We’ll rough everything in and they will cover the fixtures and finishing,” Mr Mitchell said of the authority.
In closing, Mr Mitchell said the PBSC would be looking for critical milestone dates and a schedule of completion at his panel’s next meeting.
The selectmen then unanimously accepted the project budget as approved by the building commissioners and presented.