Ellington Senior Center building project hits a snag

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Fri., Mar. 29, 2013
Building Committee member Richard Stromberg sheds some light on why the Ellington Senior Center building project needs more funding, at the town meeting on March 25. Photos by Steve Smith.
Building Committee member Richard Stromberg sheds some light on why the Ellington Senior Center building project needs more funding, at the town meeting on March 25. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Ellington Senior Center's new building project hit something of a snag. In February of 2012, the town approved at referendum an appropriation of $2.5 million for the project, based on design plans by designer Anwar Hussein of Lawrence Associates.

At a special town meeting on March 25, residents learned that bids for the project came in at much more than that amount, and that an additional $400,000 for the project would have to go to a referendum. “The bids on the project came in significantly higher than had been anticipated by the architect and the people who did the actual costing,” said First Selectman Maurice Blanchette. “They came in so much higher, that the permanent building committee started looking at everything they'd have to cut back to get down to a number they could live with.”

Blanchette added that the bids on the project were about $700,000 over the $2.5 million. “So, we already figured we were going to cut some stuff,” he said.

Among the items on that “cut list” were automatic entry doors, a carport, landscaping and seeding of the lawn, a generator, concrete sidewalks, kitchen equipment, phone equipment, and signage. In order to get the project closer to its original budget, several aspects of the original conceptual plans were scratched, but there were simply some things that could not be done without.

With the referendum scheduled for April 2, some residents wondered why the town would spend an estimated $6,000-8,000 on a referendum, rather than combine the question with the town's budget referendum, which is slated to happen sometime in May. Blanchette said it was requested by the permanent building committee that the town act as soon as possible, since ground was scheduled to break on the project as early as late March, and some of the items on the “cut list” would need to be part of the early stages of construction, if they are to happen at all. The construction would, he said, continue whether the additional funds are approved at referendum or not.

“Some of the items on the list could be added later, but we would miss out on some things,” he said.

Richard Stromberg of the town's permanent building committee said taking things away from the construction of the building has been a difficult process, over some time. “Every month it seemed we were paring off another level of use or value to the building itself, to the point where...it was evident that if we went any further at all, it was almost senseless to have anything at all, and that's when we decided to ask for these additional funds,” he said, adding that additions would likely be asked for in the future, at a more expensive cost than adding them into the construction.

“That would be ongoing work that would always keep the building pretty much in an unfinished condition,” he said, “and it will cost us more over the years.”

Some residents wanted to press the issue of delaying the referendum. “It probably will pass,” one resident said. “We're just throwing $8,000 away to have a separate referendum.”

But the meeting's moderator, Mark Leighton, kept them on task. “The debate, at this point, is to address the cost,” he said. “The Board of Selectmen has already voted to hold the referendum.”

Resident Celine Richardson asked what unanticipated extra costs were the result of increased construction costs due to the impact of recent natural disasters, such as hurricane Sandy. “Why are the costs that we are getting more than the original proposals?” she asked.

“There is some speculation that natural disasters have bumped the cost of some building materials,” Blanchette said. “Regardless of how we got here, that's where we are now.” Blanchette said that Millennium Builders, Inc. of Rocky Hill – which was the lowest bidder for the project – was selected for the job, and has been working with the town on cost negotiations.

The Senior Center Steering Committee had previously said that about $1 million of the total cost would ultimately come from town coffers, with the rest of the funding set to be raised privately or sought via grants.

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