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Worse for wear

December 22, 2018

GREENWICH — As the Music Instructional Space and Auditorium building went up at Greenwich High School, so, too, did its costs. Now, three years into its use, repair orders are flooding in — literally.

Construction crews have responded to three different water problems at the Performing Arts Center in 2018 alone.

Most recently, a pipe part broke in the ceiling of the upper lobby on Dec.12, leading school officials to shut down the building and the nearby gym for six to eight weeks.

In April, water was found seeping into the orchestra pit, as crews were concurrently working to address a persistent leak from a skylight in the roof, which appeared multiple times between February and June.

Rising construction costs

As construction began on the facility known as MISA, costs rose faster than the building did.

In 2010, the project was envisioned to cost $29 million. By 2014, the price tag had swelled to more than $46 million.

Workers broke ground on the new auditorium in July 2013. Before long, project managers faced problems with groundwater seeping into the excavated area, contaminated soil that had to be removed from the project’s footprint, and an aggressive New England winter in 2014. (Soil remediation on the wider school grounds did not figure into MISA costs.)

Then there were the bids for the work. The MISA Building Committee received cost estimates from Turner Construction — the company that managed the project — and other parties, but the actual contracts that followed exceeded projections.

The MISA project did not have big cost overruns, officials said. It was the bids themselves that were pricey.

“They ran high across the board,” said Bob Brady, a member of the building committee.

‘Seepage,’ leaks and breaks

But the expensive work did not produce a watertight building.

At an April 19, 2018 Board of Education meeting, former Superintendent Jill Gildea first reported that there was some “seepage” into the auditorium’s orchestra pit. The pit is the lowest part of the structure, sitting about 9 feet below the surface of the water table.

But officials are not sure whether that fact is the cause of the problem.

“There are several theories about the seepage, all of which are theories,” Brady said. “We don’t know yet. That’s being worked on as well.”

The “water problem” was again discussed in a June 2018 building committee meeting. Minutes from that session include a discussion about seepage in April, when rain followed a fast snow melt. Dan Watson, director of facilities for Greenwich Public Schools, requested that snow not be piled up against the building for the 2018-19 school year as a result.

“It’s a certain circumstance that causes the water,” said Laura Rabin, school board representative to the MISA Building Committee. “The last time, it was snow against the building.”

Waterproofing extends up the first 50 feet of MISA, five feet higher than the water table. Water could be going over the waterproofing, or through a hole and getting into the building, Brady said.

The seepage is one reason why, more than three years after the building opened, the project has not yet been “closed” and handed over from the building committee to the school board.

With $50,000 in the MISA budget left to spend, committee members have requested that some construction money go toward investigating the source of the seepage.

Messages sent to a representative from Turner Construction were not returned this week.

But the orchestra pit is not the only location of water problems in the building. According to minutes of a Feb. 6 building committee meeting, members contacted Silktown Roofing Inc., which had installed the skylights, to say one had sprung a leak.

During an April school board meeting, Watson acknowledged the leaky roof in the lobby, referencing the ongoing problem with the intersection of the skylight and the roof.

Silktown was contacted again on May 14 about the leaks, which had continued into early June, according to June 6 meeting minutes.

The leaks could be caused by faulty product designs or specifications, bad installation or some combination, Brady said.

“Primarily, as I understand it, it’s a vendor or installer warranty issue,” he said.

Silktown said Thursday that a representative would be able to comment after the holidays.

The most recent, and to date most drastic, problem occurred this month, when a vibrator coupling on hot water pipes broke, shutting the facility down.

The schools’ insurance provider will determine who will be responsible for repairs and costs, Watson said.

The faulty coupling could not have been caught or addressed earlier because it is inaccessible, he said.

But Brady said a 3-year-old building should get more life from a part like that, so analyzing it and determining the problem is important.

“I think it’s too early for it to have failed, but it should be inspected regularly, to see if it’s in order,” he said. “If there is a systemic problem, we need to know about it and fix it rather than wait for the next break ... in the longer term, all of this stuff requires periodic maintenance inspection, maybe maintenance. That is a problem which, historically, I don’t believe the town has dealt with well.”

Generally, school staff conducts routine maintenance on plumbing systems in accessible areas by checking water pressure and temperatures and looking for visible leaks, Watson said. Custodians are on the front lines, but if problems exceed their roles, they submit work orders or, in emergencies, call maintenance staff.

Staff members regularly monitor major systems such as heating and cooling, using a remote building management system. Contracted vendors regularly inspect other operations such as sprinkler systems, elevators and fire alarms, he said.

A walk-through is held twice annually to review each school for air quality and environmental issues, and check for leaks and possible water intrusion, Watson said.

Greenwich Time has requested to see work orders related to MISA since it was opened, as well as any work orders for the high school building for the last two years.

Watson said there are no work orders for the areas of recent GHS leaks: including the Performing Arts Center and a mechanical room in the science wing.

Shared responsibility

While the Facilities Department has started mobilizing contractors and overseeing repairs, and risk managers investigate the coupling, there is a lack of clarity among members of the school board and building committee over who is responsible for the problems and their repair.

“While the Board of Education has not formally accepted the Performing Arts Center from the Building Committee, our facilities team has been working in tandem with them to resolve all open items to bring the project to completion,” school board chair Peter Bernstein said in an email. “The members of the committee have worked tirelessly over many years and deserve much credit for the amazing performance space that the entire town should be proud of.”

But Board of Estimate and Taxation member Leslie Moriarty, a representative to the building committee and former school board chair, said this week that the responsibility for maintenance and follow-up on warranty issues lies with the staff at Greenwich High School.

“The primary responsibility of a Building Committee is to construct or renovate a building to meet the educational specifications within the established budget,” Moriarty said. “Once completed, there is a turnover process ... That process was completed with GHS facilities staff for each phase of this project.”

The building committee has retained responsibility for “uncompleted construction,” she said: “For this project, the schools facilities staff and the building committee have continued to work together to address several issues, both warranty and open items. This collaboration may have blurred the responsibility for the flooding issues.”

A member of the MISA Building Committee since 2012, BET member Leslie Tarkington said the building committee voted Oct. 2 to turn the building over to the Board of Education, and the school board must accept the building before a state audit process can begin that would allow the final state reimbursement to be given to the town.

“The MISA Building Committee has gone overboard to support the schools in their operating of these elegant, unique, and special spaces with their sophisticated systems,” Tarkington said.

She added: “Like all other buildings or objects, there is a depreciable life, and it has begun for the MISA spaces. There are warranties and the MISA Building Committee has used its experience, time and resources to retain the quality of building that was constructed.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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