Miller-Driscoll School Project: Selectmen approve seven more contracts

Wilton’s selectmen approved on Nov. 16 a resolution that authorizes the first selectman to sign and execute, on behalf of the town, seven trade contracts for the Miller-Driscoll School renovation project, most of which had been sidelined during a contentious special meeting Nov. 5.

The vote passed 4-0-1, with First Selectman Bill Brennan and Selectmen Michael Kaelin, Deborah McFadden and Dick Dubow for the resolution and Ken Dartley abstaining.

On Nov. 5, in response to an outpouring of public comment, the selectmen convened a special meeting so members of the public and selectmen would be afforded the opportunity to review the Miller-Driscoll renovation packages before taking action that was originally slated for the selectmen’s regular meeting on Nov. 2.

After hours of debate that night, construction manager Ty Tregellas with Turner Construction prioritized six of the 13 packages earmarked “critical” and unanimously recommended by the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee.

The six contracts — demolition and abatement, concrete, plumbing, fire protection, HVAC and controls, and electrical — were approved 3-2 for signature.

On Nov. 16, members of the public again left no seat open in Town Hall Meeting Room B, where they journeyed either to oppose or support the Board of Selectmen’s next step forward.

But after hearing comments from everyone who wished to speak, Brennan moved that the board authorize him to sign seven more contracts and was seconded by McFadden, and, put to a vote, the resolution passed.

These seven contracts are for structural steel, roofing and metal panels, masonry, glass and glazing, drywall and general trades, teledata, and sitework, specified by Tregellas as the seven most urgent.

There are a total of 22 different trades for the project. Now that the first selectman has been authorized to execute 13 of them, nine are left to go. The bids will hold for 60 days.
The meeting
As he did at the special Board of Selectmen meeting Nov. 5, Tregellas, this time backed by his project team, again went through each of the seven contracts and explained why he and the building committee felt they could not wait.

Brennan addressed a number of comments made at the special meeting as misinformation, arguing with help from Tregellas and his team that the mold found at Turner-renovated Middlebrook School had “nothing to do” with Turner and was in fact the fault of the custodial staff’s “lack of or improper maintenance.”

He also asserted that accusations made against Turner at the special meeting regarding project phasing and scheduling were ungrounded.

Prompted to speak by Brennan, Tregellas confirmed, “Both the phasing plan and the project schedule are part of the bid documents that are issued to the bidders. It is not intended that either one of them have all the information that’s required for the bidders. They are complementary, and to that extent the bidders are responsible for all the information.

“The schedule does not depict every item that happens on the project, and the phasing schedule takes things from a slightly different perspective. It is clearly defined in the phasing plans that there is to be some abatement work over the Thanksgiving holiday, and that is our intent.”
The selectmen vote
Kaelin, who originally voted against giving the first selectman power to sign the first six contracts, said he needed “to have this information presented to me in a public meeting like this so that everyone understands what we are doing and why we are doing it,” and that “we shouldn’t have been put in that tight of a time schedule, but we were, and you deal with the reality of the situation.”

“I think what has occurred over the last two weeks, unpleasant as it may have been, is really good,” Kaelin said, “and I think all of us in this room should feel really good about what’s happened. We didn’t authorize the first selectman to sign all 22 contracts the night before the election.”

“I’m in favor, and I thank my fellow board members for compromising,” Kaelin said.

Brennan, in favor, said, “We’ve got an attractive bid situation, and we’re all trying to keep the costs down. That’s been the focus of this project from the very beginning.”

McFadden said, “Turner realized that there was a lot of interest in bidding on this project, and because of the interest, they extended the bid process by an additional two weeks. That additional two weeks was a good thing and a bad thing,” citing more competition — and thus lower bids — but disclaiming contraction of the approval process.

“We have slowed down; we had the special meeting; we didn’t do all 22; we’ve done six, and now we’re going to do seven, and I support doing the additional seven,” McFadden said.

Dartley announced that he will not seek reappointment to the Board of Selectmen when the new board and first selectman are sworn in Dec. 1, and by that reasoning he abstained from voting.

A story covering Dartley's announcement can be read at this address.
Public comment
Three-year resident John Macken brought a fresh set of ears to the meeting, and after absorbing both sides of the argument made comment.

“Turner, I think, tonight, impressed me significantly,” Macken said. “My only real question — I have a child in Miller-Driscoll — and my only question was really his safety. I have no reason to believe you folks would put his safety in jeopardy, and I was very impressed with what I heard from Turner. So, really, for me, it’s just a statement of, ‘Please think of us when you’re making decisions.’

“I really just want to make sure that my son is in a healthy environment. The school needs to be renovated. I think it’s great that we found those cost savings, because I did find the sticker shock of the initial price to be a little bit high, and I think … if we’re getting hung up on semantics and we’re going to lose that cost savings, I don’t think that’s very sensible,” Macken said.

Resident Marissa Lowthert presented evidence that she believed disproved Turner’s claim as to having had no fault with the mold emergence at Middlebrook School, arguing that teachers were reporting mold in the first year after the school’s renovation, not five years later as Brennan and Tregellas had said earlier in the meeting.

“I would also like to see the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee to be reformed. I’d like to see it reformed in conformance with our current town charter and our capital projects process,” Lowthert said, explaining that she interprets town ordinance to require members on building committees to be only elected town officials who are not simultaneously serving on any other major boards.

Lastly, Lowthert called for a longer delay on contract execution for the school project.
The Board of Selectmen will vote on whether to authorize the first selectman to sign the remaining nine contracts at its next regular meeting, on Dec. 7.

By that time, the newly elected selectmen and first selectman will take their seats.