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November 6, 2012

Lockley Controversy: Razzano changes position, board to proceed with project

NEW CASTLE — A straw vote last night was unanimous for the New Castle school board to proceed with the Lockley school project.

The turnaround came after board members heard an explanation from financial experts Thursday that if the district does not undertake the consolidation project of its four elementary schools into one, it would be required to pay about $8 million to terminate bonds obtained to fund the project. It also would lose $1.5 million already paid in costs toward the project.

At a heated special meeting on Oct. 25, the board voted to reject the most recent bids by a 5-4 vote.

The board now is considering choosing the least expensive of three options presented by Eckles Architecture.

That choice, which will total $19,023,733 in construction costs, represents the base bids of all of the contractors collectively, plus it has all of the more expensive alternative bids subtracted out of it.

Estimated soft costs will total another $3,689,739.

The board’s vote Oct. 25 rejected the bids based on the most expensive proposal recommended by the administration. That option totaled $19,215,283 in construction costs and $3,706,979 in soft costs.

The soft costs include furniture, architect, engineer and legal fees, and a contingency fund of 3 percent or about $77,000 reserved for any unforeseen costs.

At a special public work session last night, John G. Hays of Thomas and Williamson, the district’s Pittsburgh-based construction manager, assured the board that he and the architects will constantly be looking at ways to save the district money.

Board member Dr. Marilyn Berkely asked if they will be willing to sign off on the work.

Hays said each contract is certified by the architect and the construction manager monthly. He said they would provide monthly project totals at the board meetings, along with a running total.

After district business manager Joe Ambrosini explained the financing one more time, Joseph asked for a consensus on how the board would vote a second time on the bids.

“Based on the additional information, I will say ‘Yes,’” said board member David DiGiammarino, who had previously voted against the project.

Berkely and Barbara Razzano, who both opposed the project from the start, also relented. At first, Razzano hesitated, then said, “reluctantly, yes.”

“This will help you win the election, Barb, I think you should do it,” Joseph said, goading her.

After the poll, he commented, “9-0. That’s what it should have been in the first place.”

“I’ve been against this entire building idea,” Razzano commented after the meeting. “Now because of some creative financial move ... I had never heard of anything said before about a penalty. I can’t let the taxpayers down with more than a $10 million penalty. Now I’m stuck in voting for something I’ve been against from the beginning.”

The board has 60 days from the bid opening — until Dec. 8 — to award bids or reject the project.

David Esposito of Eckles invited all of the board members to a meeting with the administrators at 9 a.m. Thursday “to go over last week’s events of what’s happened.”

The board plans to formally vote on the lowest option at its regular school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

 Meanwhile, the topic is likely to come up again at its regular public work session at 6 p.m. Monday.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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