NORTH ADAMS -- A second set of cost estimates for the Conte School building project is still trending $555,000 over budget, but the project's management team says the latest estimates are a good thing.
"Overall the picture is very good," said Ken Guyette, of Strategic Building Solutions (SBS), the firm serving as project manager. "We're at the 60 percent construction design phase and we've reconciled the numbers we received from the two estimators. The needle didn't move very far from where we were at before and we have a plan in place to get us below budget."
The state School Building Authority (MSBA) approved a $30 million budget for the project, of which it has agreed to pay up to 80 percent, or $23.2 million, of construction costs.
SBS Principal Mel Overmoyer said the figures fall in line with the overall strategy, approved by the School Building Committee in July, which identified items that could be removed from the budget if it went over. Likewise, he said, those items could be returned to the project if construction bids come in under the final construction estimates.
"With anything we've gotten in the past year, we've been about 10 percent under bid," he said, referring to bids on other projects SBS is overseeing. "We want to play the market."
Architect Margo Jones, of Margo Jones Architects, said the firms putting together the estimates were basing figures on "a different labor market than we use."
"But that protects us," she said.
In July, the School Building Committee identified nearly a dozen "deduct alternatives" including: Reducing or eliminating air conditioning in the classrooms, corridors and gymnasium for a savings ranging from $25,900 to $724,700 ( based on the estimates); substituting manual flush valves for automatic flush valves for a savings of $29,000; removing a historic wall from the plans for an estimated savings of $55,000 and removing wall "wash" lights for an estimated savings of $12,500.
The committee previously eliminated a service elevator from the project, removing an additional $100,000 from the budget.
Jones said that very few modifications had been made to the plans since the last estimate, but noted a decorative "historic" wall had been added the plans on the western side of the school.
Julie Sniezek, of Guntlow and Associates, said the decorative wall would fill in a gap created by the removal of lower set of stairs in Colegrove Park and would also be replaced at the top of the upper stairs.
"We thought this was a good compromise," she said, referring to a request from the city's Historical Commission. "The upper wall doesn't exist any more, but we've agreed to put it in."
Jones said initial estimates put the cost at about $55,000 for the wall.
She added talks were still on going about a retaining wall at the southwest corner of the property.
Overmoyer said the next set of cost estimates -- at the 90 percent construction design phase -- would be the most crucial numbers to date.
"The last round of cost estimates is where the rubber hits the road," he said. "It's where we need to make sure our strategy is really honed in."
The next meeting of the School Building Committee is on Monday, Oct. 21, at 5 p.m., in the lower level conference room at Conte.