All contracts OKed for Miller-Driscoll project
Wilton’s selectmen, at their meeting on Dec. 7, authorized First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice to sign and execute, on behalf of the town, the remaining nine trade contracts for the Miller-Driscoll School project. All 22 packages for the renovation have now been approved.
Selectman Dick Dubow motioned the authorization. He was seconded by David Clune, and the resolution passed with the selectmen voting all-in-favor.
Fighting public pushback and further delayed by its own dissenting voting members, it took the board two contentious regular meetings and an equally contentious special session to get signed the first 13 contracts, which were earmarked “critical” and unanimously recommended by the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee.
Though power delegation is a right guaranteed to the Board of Selectmen by the Wilton Town Charter, members of the public attended the aforementioned meetings in droves to demand that the selectmen not “abnegate” their powers, out of what many termed a “fiduciary responsibility to constituents.”
Many used the opportunity to address other perceived issues that ranged from the failure of democracy down to specifics of the project plan and contracts.
At the Dec. 7 meeting, Turner Construction’s senior project manager for the Miller-Driscoll renovation, Michael Douyard, went through each of the nine contracts and explained why the winning bids were awarded and why the work scopes for each contract were important to the overall project.
These were for millwork, doors, frames and hardware, acoustic ceilings, ceramic tile, vinyl composition tile, carpet and resinous flooring, wood flooring, painting and wall coverings, kitchen equipment, and landscaping.
While the above nine contracts were sidelined until Dec. 7 as less critical than the 13 first approved, Douyard explained that most of them were nevertheless urgent due to the “need to get the submittal process initiated to coordinate with other trades.”
Agent vs. manager at risk
For that reason, Vanderslice asked Wilton’s director of facilities and energy management, Chris Burney, to attend the Dec. 7 Board of Selectmen meeting and prompted him to further explain the difference between a construction manager agent — like Turner — and a construction manager at risk.
“The traditional method of construction management, which is what we’re using, is we hire the construction manager who is our agent for the entire project. They have our best interest in heart; they only represent us,” Burney said.
“They are on a fixed fee, so if the project value goes up, and they somehow caused it to increase, they don’t get any more money. So they have no vested interest in creating work; their vested interest is in making this the best project possible so that they get rehired.
“A construction manager at risk, [however], the construction manager will assume the risk of building the project. So at that point, his allegiance changes from the client, the town, to himself … his interest is in saving himself money and making a profit.”
If Wilton had hired a construction manager at risk for the Miller- Driscoll School project, the town would have never seen the $5 million in savings it’s beginning to see now thanks to a favorable bidding process. Those funds would have been kept by the manager, as the manager would hold all the vendor contracts.
Vanderslice explained that, in response to the the public’s worries, she has asked Burney to increase his involvement with the Miller- Driscoll School project.
“Taxpayers and parents wanted to have somebody who’s on the payroll [involved]. … Chris is going to take a more active role in overseeing the project,” she said.
Several members of the public made comment at the Dec. 7 meeting, one of whom was Alex Ruskewich.
“There is definite evidence that the enrollments are dropping dramatically, not only for Miller-Driscoll but also for the entire school system,” Ruskewich said, citing an Oct. 19 report.
“The state of Connecticut is projecting, not just for Wilton, but for all of our DRG [district reference group] group — which is us, New Canaan, Darien — they’re projecting a decrease of 35% for all of these towns up until 2025. WIth all the contracts that have been signed, what’s gonna happen?”
“My question to the Board of Selectmen is, how are you going to justify the tax increases now, to pay for something that may or may not happen — most likely won’t — in 25 years?” he asked, referring to the renovated school being fully occupied in the future.
To his comment, Vanderslice replied that she’ll be asking the town’s education officials to attend a Board of Selectmen’s meeting, to professionally discuss enrollment projections, “maybe even for the next meeting.”