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Community Center On Track For 2019 Opening Despite Tight Budget

Published: July 14, 2018

Public Building and Site Commission (PBSC) Chairman Robert Mitchell said he was excited to learn that the steel “bones” of the new community and senior center were going up Monday, July 9. As a former high altitude steel worker himself, Mr Mitchell said once that work is complete in a couple of weeks, residents will clearly be able to envision the true size and scope of the building.

Mr Mitchell told The Newtown Bee during a brief interview this week that the project is still on track for an April 2019 opening. Equally important, Mr Mitchell said that the project is still on budget, although current budget parameters are, in a word, “tight.”

He explained that one of the reasons why the community center component is progressing both expediently and efficiently, to the extent that it has, is because, like the Sandy Hook School project, it is being designed and constructed more like a commercial building than a traditional municipal initiative.

“We released numerous drawings early to fast-track certain elements of the project,” Mr Mitchell said. “It may have not made a significant difference related to the budget, but it made an impact on timing and has allowed for us to look at alternate approaches as we continued value engineering.”

Value engineering can be defined as an organized effort directed at analyzing designed building features, systems, equipment, and material selections for the purpose of achieving essential functions at the lowest life cycle cost consistent with required performance, quality, reliability, and safety, according to the US General Services Administration.

By releasing preliminary internal drawings earlier rather than later, it allowed for some early bidding for base components of the project, Mr Mitchell said.

“Those early bids, on things like steel and concrete among others, gave us a solid idea of the budget,” he said. A second round of plan releases and subsequent bids helped community center developers see other aspects that may have driven the project over budget and make course corrections in real time.

“In one case, we were able to save almost $400,000 by implementing a different HVAC system for the building,” he said, citing one high price tag example. “We are doing the community center using the Sandy Hook School as a model. And similarly, by releasing bid packages as soon as possible, in the end, we saved a lot of money.”

Early Plan Reviews

In terms of nickels and dimes that add up to dollars — or in some cases, improvements that will be enjoyed by staff and users alike — the earliest possible reviews of plans have given designers and the building team opportunities to make smaller tweaks because having them led to detailed discussions among the architects and various project team engineers.

“Also, like with Sandy Hook, having a project manager on board from the onset allowed us to pursue value engineering from preliminary stages of the design process,” the PBSC chairman said. “This was an intentional attempt early-on to keep us under budget and allowed maximum monitoring of many details of the project throughout each phase.”

In regards to the senior center component, Mr Mitchell said from a design standpoint, it will very much be an independent operation from that of the community center.

“It has so many independent and exclusive elements because the type of programming for a senior center versus a community center are actually quite different,” he said. “The same drawing or Tai Chi class in the community center will likely be scheduled and conducted differently than the way they would for seniors. The users represent, for the most part, completely different audiences.”

That said, Mr Mitchell added in cases where a senior center activity is anticipated to be so well-attended that it may need to expand beyond the facility’s existing rooms, organizers could then arrange to shift it into one of the larger community center spaces.

One of those spaces could be the full-sized community center event room, which has a maximum capacity of nearly 250 seated at tables.

“That room has a lot of flexibility,” he added. “And with it being directly connected to the outdoor patio area, it could serve for large community and private events, from municipal meetings and testimonials to private parties and weddings.”

Other PBSC Business

In other PBSC business, Mr Mitchell said his panel has finally closed out and released the Newtown High School addition, which was technically still in process throughout a protracted period during which the source of a problematic leak in the new cafeteria was located and eventually repaired.

“The leak has been resolved, and that cost has been absorbed,” he said. “Finalizing that repair didn’t end up costing the town any more.”

The PBSC similarly accepted and closed out its business with the high school auditorium, which means state reimbursements for both projects can now be paid, representing at least 30 percent of the overall project costs.

The PBSC is now awaiting authorization from the Board of Selectmen to take over as project managers for the proposed new police headquarters. But he said that will not happen until the construction budget is approved at referendum by taxpayers, which appears to be slated to happen on November’s local Election Day ballot.

The commission is also poised to manage or assist in any way with the Sandy Hook permanent memorial, which is in the final stages of selection.

Mr Mitchell said that if the full PBSC is not involved in managing the project, its individual members may be called to serve on a separate and independent building committee if the Permanent Memorial Commission and town leaders decide to go in that direction to complete the project.

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