Miller-Driscoll School Project: Burney authorized to sign change orders

Because Miller-Driscoll Building Committee Chair Bruce Hampson is on vacation, and co-chair Karen Birck has resigned, there will be no one to execute change orders — if they should be necessary — for the Miller-Driscoll School renovation over the Christmas break, when heavy work will be underway.

For that reason, Wilton’s selectmen at their Dec. 21 meeting authorized Chris Burney, the director of facilities and energy management for the town, to sign and execute change orders up to $50,000. The motion was made by Dick Dubow and seconded by David Clune.

Prompted by First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice to further explain the urgent nature of change order execution, Burney said, “I think the biggest misconception about change orders is that people will make changes because they’ve got a better idea … or they’ve got money left and they want to spend it and upgrade.”

“What we’re talking about here,” Burney said, “is changes that are necessary, that we have allowances for in the contingency fund, but [of which] it is unreasonable for us to have anticipated the details until the building’s open.”

There are certain assumptions that must be made during the planning phase of any project, but some of these are often found false once construction starts.

“You’ve got to pull a wall off, and you pull it off and you go, ‘Well I didn’t expect to see that. Now I’ve got to put in three more pieces of steel,’” Burney said.

“That’s got to be paid for,” he said. “It’s within the contract; it’s within the budget, because it’s covered in the contingency, but the contractor can’t proceed until he gets the change order approved.”

Work on the Miller-Driscoll school is hinged on windows of time when school is not in session, therefore project setbacks in this case will result in phasing jumps to the next available break or long weekend.

“Because the vacation period [during which major work is to be done] is such a short time frame, if we come across a problem, we won’t have two weeks to wait for Bruce to come back,” Burney said. “That will delay school opening, or we won’t be able to complete the project.”

“We’re not talking about millions of dollars,” Burney said. “We’re talking about the practical ability to finish what we need to finish in this 10-day period.”

“We were talking about an approval level of $50,000,” Vanderslice said, “which is consistent with what the building committee does now,” Burney added.

Selectman David Clune on the Saturday before the meeting accepted an offer from senior project manager Michael Douyard of Turner Construction to tour the construction zone at Miller-Driscoll. He said Douyard walked him through several examples of situations that could potentially require change orders.

“One example is, on Dec. 28, they’re going to cut away some steel beams from the peach core, and they think the weight is distributed one way, based on the design drawings, but he said, ‘It’s possible that the distribution will be different,’ and that would be a case where they would need a change order,” Clune said.

“As Chris said, it’s not necessarily mistakes or extra things, it’s just things that will keep the project moving forward. So I think, for this time frame, we do need to do something,” he added.

Dubow, who is a member of the building committee,  said it’s “more than reasonable” to authorize Burney. “I can’t emphasize enough how critical time is in this project,” he said. “The loss of even a day puts you in a hole that sometimes is difficult to get out of, so I’m absolutely in support of this.”

When it came time to word the resolution, Selectman Michael Kaelin said that, “Since we only have one chair of the building committee now, I’d even extend it to, ‘ the absence of the second chair.’”

Vanderslice and Dubow both agreed. “That’s even better,” the first selectman said, Dubow echoing, “That makes a lot of sense.”

Thus passed the resolution that, in the absence of a second chair of the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee, Chris Burney shall be authorized to sign and execute change orders up to values of $50,000 until such time that the main committee chair is again available.