, Salem, MA

February 9, 2009

Village School bid may add up to big savings

By Alan Burke

MARBLEHEAD — Man bites dog.

In a Big Dig world where everything always seems to cost more than anyone expected, bids for the rehabilitation of the Village School have come in $5 million under the original estimate.

School Committee Chairwoman Amy Drinker is urging caution — there are still unknowns involved in the project that could eat up all the savings — but she adds, "In this case the economy seems to be working in our favor."

The bid for construction was roughly $11 million while the town had pegged the cost of this phase of the project at $16.3 million. The winning entry, one of eight competitors, was submitted by Groom Construction of Salem, which recently completed the new YMCA facility on Leggs Hill Road.

Tom Groom says there's nothing unusual about the bid. "The job is what the job is." Moreover, the payments to workers are dictated by the state's prevailing wage law.

But he concedes that the need to find work in the current recession could have impacted some of his subcontractors. "(They) could be bidding these things very tight."

The Village School, which houses grades 4, 5 and 6, has sent the 6th graders to the Middle School while the work is ongoing. The heating system and roof are among the major items due for repair.

For her part, Drinker worries about what might be uncovered once the work is begun. "Let's take the roof," she says, noting that it will be replaced. "Is there structural damage they'll have to repair?"

In that case, more spending will be necessary.

Any savings, however, could eventually accrue to the taxpayers. "We won't have to borrow that money," says Drinker. Or — as the chairwoman hopes — it could be used to address other school needs, projects that will have to be done eventually anyway.

The total cost of the Village repairs have been estimated at nearly $22 million. The state has agreed to pay 40 percent, but Beacon Hill might yet rule some of the spending as beyond their responsibility, says Drinker.

Thus, the state will claim some of any savings, but it is as yet impossible to determine how much.