Town scrambles to ready Julian Curtiss
GREENWICH — A month before the start of school, work has not been completed on a roof replacement for Julian Curtiss School. But school administrators are hopeful construction will be done before students return.
School and town officials over the past week scrambled to secure money to complete the project, after discovering a breakdown in communication had left the contract unfunded.
The Representative Town Meeting will vote Thursday on an interim appropriation of $617,000, which the boards of finance and education approved late last week, after it was discovered that the Board of Education had not secured the funding for replacement of the eastern portion of the roof, one month after construction had started. The sum includes $587,000 for the work and $30,000 for a contingency.
“If all goes well, it is expected that the work will be completed and the building ready for the first day of school,” BOE Chairman Peter Bernstein said in an email. This summer’s rain delays has decreased the already limited time for the project while school is out, he said.
Before the students return, the roof needs to be completed so the building is water-tight, the scaffolding needs to be removed and construction materials need to be cleared, he said.
Currently, an ice and water shield is in place, but corners and edges remain exposed. Workers have already removed roughly 90 percent of the old slate shingles, and without them, the roof is not water tight, according to the funding request for the emergency appropriation.
The project was put in sudden jeopardy recently when town finance officials discovered money had not been allocated to pay for the contracted work. Officials are still examining what went wrong but believe miscommunication following high-level administrative changes in the school system last year contributed to the problem. Last fall, outgoing Superintendent Jill Gildea, Chief Operating Officer Lorianne O’Donnell and Director of Facilities Daniel Watson took over key positions.
“All the players have changed,” Town Comptroller Peter Mynarski, Jr. said. “When they went out to bid last time, they had a different finance director, facilities manager and different superintendent of schools. That’s probably where there was a miscommunication between original and current team.”
After patch jobs in 2012 and 2015, the roof over Julian Curtiss still needed repairs, so the BOE requested proposals for a roof replacement project during the 2016-2017 fiscal year. While the board estimated the roof repairs would cost $550,000, the bids came back at $1.7 million.
The high cost led the board to divide the project into two phases. They entered into a $1.1 million contract for 60 percent of the roof, completed summer of 2017, and determined leftover appropriations would cover the remaining 40 percent, the east roof.
The board, however, only had $100,000 remaining after the first phase of construction was completed in summer 2017, Mynarski said.
The school board contracted with the lowest bidder for the east roof work, for $587,000, without realizing it had not submitted a separate funding request, BET Chair Jill Oberlander said.
“The board had started on phase two because they wanted to complete it before next school year,” Oberlander said. “To wait for the Representative Town Meeting to restart in September would mean they were too late to open school on time.”
The contractor began working June 25. The board sent the project to finance to approve the funding source July 3. Two days later, town finance officials contacted the BOE for an account code, and after receiving no response, followed up 11 days later.
Without the account code, the finance department did not have a way to generate a check to pay for the project, Mynarski said.
The exchange surrounding the account code drew attention to the funding oversight, according to Oberlander.
Since school starts at the end of August, Oberlander said the schedule will not allow for an in-depth look into all the questions the roof project poses, but the law and audit committees will look into what happened.
“We want to take a close look at both what and why it happened to see what improvements we can make to give the BOE flexibility in completing necessary capital projects but to ensure proper required authorization is obtained beforehand,” she said.
Bernstein said the administration will work with the BET and town finance department to review the process and challenges that led to the interim appropriation request.
“This work will result in positive change going forward and a closer relationship between the school and town side when it comes to project management and finances,” he said.