And as our new money pit in Byram inches deeper, here’s an old friend come back to visit

Greenwich High School SRO

Greenwich High School SRO

More money allocated to the Music Palace at GHS, now budgeted at $46 million and climbing, from its original budget of $28.

The Board of Education on Thursday approved a request for an additional $2.37 million in contingency funds for the construction of the new performing arts complex at Greenwich High School, a move that responds to cost overruns produced by an unforeseen scope of environmental remediation work and construction delays.

[Joe Ross, Building Committee Chairman] acknowledged that the remediation needed to address contaminated soil in the MISA footprint has exceeded Building Committee members’ expectations.

“The types of contaminated soil that we had were in different areas, they were in larger areas than we thought, and they were at different elevations,” Ross said.

“There is more and deeper contaminated soil on the site than we originally thought?” board member Peter Sherr asked.

“That’s correct,” Ross replied.

MISA’s fiscal challenges are stark. The project started with a total contingency of $3.8 million, including a $500,000 allocation for unforeseen environmental costs. So far, the Building Committee has approved $1.7 million of change orders, representing 45 percent of the total contingency, according to a Building Committee report to the school board. Of that amount, $1.3 million relates to environmental costs and $360,000 goes to other parts of the project.

But the Building Committee also forecasts another $1.16 million in potential change orders — although some of them might not be carried out — as well as $400,000 in additional construction manager or “soft” costs.

At the last count, MISA’s total construction costs were estimated at about $43.7 million. Adding another $2.37 million would raise that total to $46.1 million.

Ross also reported that the cofferdam surrounding the orchestra pit is now holding off major leakage. The cofferdam has required reinforcements in response to significant seepage in recent months. [emphasis added]

School board members also pondered what challenges could emerge during the next planned construction phase — demolition of the current auditorium and construction of instructional music spaces in that footprint.

“Is that a concern of yours, that when we start digging in the instructional space, we’re going to find more surprises?” Adriana Ospina asked.

“There has been little environmental testing by us, because it was an active auditorium, so for me to say that we’ve tested and that there’s no evidence of that wouldn’t be correct,” Ross responded.

Just for fun, here’s an op-ed from the BOE members in 2012, when the cost of MISA was still (sic) estimated at $34 million (original 2008 estimate, $28 million) compared to today’s $46:’MISA Is Not a Money Pit’

Greenwich Board of Education op-ed outlines reasons why Greenwich HS MISA project should stay on track.

There are five powerful reasons for moving forward with MISA, the GHS Music Instructional Space and Auditorium project at the high school, specifically:

The support for MISA is large and widespread, going beyond the traditional school community.

  1. It is time to fix the undersized and substandard facilities that have hampered the high school since its initial construction.  The current facilities do not meet the educational needs of our students and are smaller than recommended by state standards.
  2. RTM approval does not initiate spending. The BET has conditioned their approval so any spending will require approval by the BET.  Additionally, if project bids exceed the funded amounts (of $33,815,000 total project cost before state reimbursement, which could be as high as $4.9 million, and $1.2 million in private donor contributions), the project would need to return to the RTM for approval before contracts are signed.Here Here the facts underlying each of these issues:

… MISA is not a “money pit,” as some have called it. There is a system of checks and balances for this project. The Building Committee has identified and estimated environmental costs related to its construction. These estimates are based on good information on the type and amount of contamination. Going out to bid will allow the true costs of the project to be better understood. The bids we receive will be most competitive if the funding is not phased. Once firm bids are received, the Building Committee is required to review the total project cost with the BET prior to the release of any construction funds. If the project costs exceed the appropriation, the Building Committee would need to seek an interim appropriation from the BOE, BET and RTM.

… We look forward to taking this project to the next step after four years of careful planning and vetting of the MISA project.

Greenwich Board of Education members:

  • Steven Anderson
  • Jennifer Dayton
  • Nancy Kail
  • Leslie Moriarty
  • Barbara O’Neill
  • Adriana Ospina
  • Peter Sherr
  • Peter von Braun
 Just to remind us, next time we consider whether it’s worth reporting to a polling station to decide between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Republican BET Chairman Michael Mason provided the deciding vote to go forward with the MISA boondoggle, and is now championing the Big Dig in Byram.


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11 responses to “And as our new money pit in Byram inches deeper, here’s an old friend come back to visit

  1. Cos Cobber

    I hear in an effort to reign in costs they plan to cancel the music and performing arts classes for the next decade.

  2. Anonymous

    A well-to-do place like Greenwich can afford a lot of stupid.

  3. Emmanuel Goldstein

    Remember, there is no municipal infrastructure project that has been undertaken since the Great Depression that has been completed at or below the original cost estimate. None; regardless of political persuasion of the prevailing government. Public infrastructure projects are never estimated correctly and once started they are never abandoned and the tax payers get sucked into the sunk cost trap and so approve revision after revision until at the completion of the project there is no stomach left to actually want to know how much the final tab is. The true cost just gets buried in the giant maw of government.

    Over under is $75mm

    • dogwalker

      EG, You might want to check the budgets for, off the top of my head, the first addition to Parkway School in the late 1960s; the then new Glenville School in the 1970s; the rebuilding of the Cos Cob School after the fire in the 1990s; additions to both Central and Eastern Middle Schools in the 1980s or 1990s.

  4. Chris don’t disparage pits…they are often real and useful….
    This is a funny money sewer system….
    Same people we have “trusted” to run our sewer system are surprised to have to beg & effectuate a 5 million dollar emergency appropriation approved by RTM because they realized a pipe has been leaking for years…
    Pitiful is correct.
    Fine wonderful well meaning people have been tuned out to reality of real costs because of the “funny money” dollar grabber merchant ideology has a political position that cannot tolerate embarrassment.
    Should they still trust the “experts”…MISA makes Ham Ave school look like a bargain….
    Pit tours should be presented before RTM votes ….
    Are you a potential docent?

  5. Call It Like I See It

    Walter – we found a deer hunting partner for you. Is this one of your relatives?

  6. Fox

    Since when is “music” so damn important at a government school? What happened to the middle-aged spinsters and widows who used to make a few bucks from after school music classes?
    And, can all the graduates read?

  7. A steady 2.75% hike since 2011. More contamination to come. Next up New Leb. The dump, to follow the list continues as each municipal improvement gets the blessing of our first selectman. Once the projects are complete when the mill rate decrease?

  8. Greenwich Taxpayer

    We love spending our money on stupid projects – after all, we are Greenwich and we expect upscale, overpriced things that can only be built by people who live on the Gold Coast. As one former BET member once said (paraphrasing), “People live in Greenwich because of its amenities.'” And of course we are so lucky that we live in Greenwich and don’t pay the type of taxes they pay in Westchester – how many BET and RTM members have said that in justifying MISA, the Safety Complex (Police/Fire) and now the Byram money pit. Of course there is always the Tesei mantra of “Small but predictable tax increases”. That line is getting a bit old, don’t you think?

    To top it off, a BOE member once indicated that no amount would be an amount they would cap for having the music palace (I’m paraphrasing again but that was the essence of the answer to a question that asked “How much is too much and why no offsets as the price rises?”) That logic prevails on the BET and the RTM. Spend like there is no tomorrow – and to hell with the cost of maintaining what we build, or even the actual cost to build it. Sometimes you have to think that living in Greenwich is like living in an alternate universe where the taxpayer doesn’t matter and no project is unworthy. That’s what happens when you have elected officials that “just can’t say no” and a constituency that doesn’t turn out in force to voice their objections.

  9. The original budget was $15 million.
    The cofferdam requires EPA permits that were never obtained.
    In order to build MISA, BOE secretly agreed to a deed restriction on the entire GHS site that will close the site forever.
    Remediation costs will probably exceed $1 billion.

  10. at least you’re clear about the whackjob part

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