Amity project revamped -New auditorium at high school possible

WOODBRIDGE - The Amity Board of Education is currently reviewing plans which, if approved, won't cost taxpayers any more money out of pocket than the original building referendum, but will instead give the students a full size auditorium.

The actual cost of the project will increase by about $5.4 million but due to lowering interest rates and increased coverage by the state the final cost to taxpayers remains the same Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Brady said.

Last year residents in Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge voted to move forward with five projects; renovations at the high school which would incorporate the ninth grade, renovations at the two middle schools, an alternative school and new board of education wing. Voters voted to spend $68,809,232. Now they will potentially be asked to vote again with a new figure of $74,405,787.

Brady said when they decided to incorporate the ninth grade at the high school they decided not to have a separate wing but to fully incorporate the students. Doing this, he said added the benefit of state reimbursement for the high school renovations.

"We assembled a knowledgeable team comprised of Gilbane (Program Managers), S/L/A/M Collaborative (the architects) as well as Fusco and Downes (the construction managers) - these are some of the most experienced professionals in the school construction business. They have worked closely with us with the goal of having buildings that will help us deliver a quality education. This collaborative effort has resulted in designs at all three schools that will create efficient program space for both current and future needs of the District," Board of Education Treasurer and Building Committee member Jill Ferraiolo said.

Brady said when they began to look at the auditorium they realized they would have to make it ADA (American With Disability Act) compliant. He said this meant the current 500 seat structure would be scaled down to 385 seats.

With that smaller number of seats "it won't even hold one class," Brady said.

So he went back to the board and told them the bad news.

"They told me they wouldn't even consider asking the taxpayers for another dime. So a team worked on this keeping the cost down. And they have succeeded," Brady said.

The current auditorium will be demolished and a new one with seating for 850 students will be built in its place encompassing the courtyard, Brady and Mauro Rubbo explained. Rubbo is a supervisor with the Gilbane Co.

"Tearing it out and rebuilding it as new allows us to incorporate design principals which will keep it dry," Rubbo explained when asked about water incursion.

Ferraiolo said the committee did not make the decision to endorse the larger auditorium lightly.

"We were presented with three options for the auditorium design - all of which could be accomplished within budget: one that would have just remediated the indoor air quality problems but would not meet ADA requirements; another that would meet ADA requirements but would not be able to accommodate a full class; and a third option that would give us an appropriately sized facility for our population and be available for the Amity community. For me, it was an easy choice," she said endorsing the larger structure.

Brady and Rubbo explained why the original costs were up.

They said the modulars were more expensive than expected. Amity had budgeted $4.4 million and the actual costs were $7.3 million resulting in an increase of $2.9 million more than expected. Another reason for the increases was the inflation of construction costs. They had budgeted for four percent inflation which seemed to be adequate after reviewing the trend of inflation but, according to 'Engineering News Record', there has been an increase of 9.4 percent increase.

"The real problem is that the middle schools are over budget not the high school and you can't transfer between projects," Brady explained saying more work was being done at the middle schools.

Brady took a minute to answer a couple of questions that have been surfacing on the Amity Supporters website.

He said the asbestos and lead abatement at the middle schools will begin May 15 on site and at the high school testing will begin in a couple of months.

When asked if there was a problem with telephones at the Bethany campus he said there was not. However, they had anticipated using the phone system at the school and moving the phones to the modulars but that system was a proprietary system which could not be pickled up and moved so they had to get some new phones.

Contrary to rumors there are no leaks in the modulars. If there were Brady said, they would be attended to immediately as they are new buildings under warranty.

And finally, the oil burner at the Orange middle school is no longer an issue since everyone has been in the modulars since Jan. 18. And as of March 1 the middle schools will be using the gyms in the portables. And while he admits the gyms are not full size they will be re-evaluating the activities planned.

"We are taking a look at the physical education curriculum and will adapt it to the students in the modulars. It is definitely not a full size gym," Brady said.

Ferraiolo explained the team was cognizant of the historical problems Amity has faced as a result of the 1992 high school project and were taking extra steps to make sure Amity wouldn't have to repeat the past.

"For example, they are proposing work at the middle schools that comply with the State's requirements in order to ensure the "renovate as new" status and at the High School, they have been attempting to propose renovation work that can be related to the programmatic change of integrating the ninth-graders into the main building. All of this will allow for the maximum state reimbursement," Ferraiolo said.

"The high school will not have any bells and whistles," Brady assured residents.

"We just want a clean and healthy building for our students and teachers," he said.