Committee selects school project general contractor

WESTFIELD – The School Building Committee selected the low bidder to serve as the general contractor for the new elementary school construction project.
The committee, in a 15 minute meeting last night, voted 6-0 to accept the recommendation of Purchasing Director Tammy Tefft to award the contract to Fontaine Brothers Inc. of Springfield for the $36 million construction project.
A ground breaking ceremony for the 96,000-square-foot, 600 student building located at the intersection of Ashley and Cross streets will be conducted at 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7 at the construction site now occupied by the former Ashley Street Elementary School .
The current structure will be demolished to clear the site for construction of the new school selected through the Massachusetts School Building Authority model school program. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has approved reimbursements of up to $23 million for the project.
Mayor Daniel M. Knapik said the Fontaine Brothers bid came in at $3 million below the projected cost, which will have a significant impact on the project.
Paul H. Kneedler of Skanska USA Building, Inc., the project manager, the fact that the bid came in at $3 million below budget will allow the city to include many of the alternate features identified earlier in the design process.
Committee Vice Chairman Kevin Sullivan asked if the committee could cherry pick certain alternatives for the building project.
Both Kneedler and Tefft said the alternatives were identified as part of the bid process and were structured in a priority order by the committee.
“You’ll have to go in order,” Tefft said. “All of the alternatives were deductibles because we didn’t know how high the bids would come in.”
The School Building Committee voted this spring to establish a priority list of features that may be eliminated to keep the building within the $36 million project budget.
The city bid the project in two phases, advertising the subcontractor bids, which were awarded in late July, and receiving the general contractors bids earlier this month. City officials and its consultants on the Massachusetts School Building Authority approved project, Margo Jones, of Margo Jones Architects Inc., and Project Manager Paul Kneedler, of Skanska USA Building Inc., reviewed the bids that ranged from Fontaine Brother’s low of $25,031,000 to a high of $26,300,000. The firms competing for the contract included three local general contractors.
The high bid was received from PDS Engineers & Construction, Inc. of Bloomfield, Conn. Two Northampton general contractors, in partnership with other firms, also sought the school building construction contract. DA Sullivan & Sons submitted a bid of $25,335,000 in partnership with The Pike Company of Rochester, N.Y., while Aquadro & Cerruti Inc. of Northampton submitted a bid of $26,290,000 in partnership with the Morganti Group Inc., a Connecticut based general contractor.
Kneedler said that the two low bids were only $300,000 apart, which added validity to the competitiveness of the bid process.
Tefft said those low bids were “testament to the thoroughness of the bid documents.”
Kneedler said that Fontaine Brothers has already been on the site and is “ready to go” following the groundbreaking ceremony, while Tefft said the firm has contacted her office and is “raring to go once the contract is released.”
There are currently two suits in Superior Court attempting to derail the project. Residents of Cross Street, who opposed construction of the 96,000-square-foot, 600-student building, filed both bids.
One suit charges that the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals acted improperly in approving a dimensional special permit for side-yard setback reliefs originally requested by the city. However, that case may be moot because the city subsequently purchased small tracts of land to satisfy the setback requirement without the ZBA permit.
The second suit charges that the school project is being constructed on Cross Street playground land that is under open space protection and that the city is in violation of state law. The city received a federal grant 40 years ago, funding that was used to improve nine parks, including a portion of the Cross Street facility. Cross Street was one of nine park facilities upgraded through a federal Department of the Interior conservation grant. Approximately 2.7 acres of the nine-acre playground was improved through the federal grant, but records do not detail which area of the Cross Street facility was upgraded through the federal grant.
The city contends that the area of the playground being incorporated into the project was not part of that grant-funded improvement effort and is exempt from the state and federal open-space restriction.
Knapik said the pending law suits will not negatively affect the project timeline until the city receives a court order.

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