Jan 02, 2024

Cost Uncertainties Plague High School Project

By Newport This Week Staff | on June 08, 2023

Three of four bids submitted by subcontractors for a new high school in Newport came in significantly higher than expected, including one for the HVAC system that is more than $3 million over estimates, the School Building Committee revealed on June 5.

Joe DeSanti of Downes Construction, the city's lead consultant, reported that the bid for the HVAC system came in at $13.25 million, well over the estimated $10.1 million.

The bid for plumbing, projected in May at $2.9 million, came in at $3.3 million, while the bid for metal framing, projected at $1.35 million, came in at $2.5 million. Only the bid for fire protection was lower, at $1.25 million vs. a $1.276 million estimate.

Nonetheless, the School Building Committee approved all four packages.

DeSanti warned there may be further price shocks. "Every project we are working on in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and throughout the Northeast is facing this," he said.

What DeSanti did not address was how these new numbers fit in with the project's budget of $96 million. There are large bids yet to be returned.

The fireworks of the evening came after the votes on the bid packages, when several residents heatedly confronted DeSanti and Tim Theis, of Pare Engineering, the project's environmental engineers. Neighbors are concerned about a large dirt pilefrom the project's excavation rising on the site of the old running track.

"There is a serious misconception of how dirty this pile is," Theis said.

He said the soil has been extensively tested and is mostly clean or contaminated at levels below state standards. Surveys found traces of lead, arsenic, PCPs used in electrical transformers, and PAHs (chemicals found in petroleum products).

The soil was tested with 80 borings. Only arsenic, which occurs naturally in the soil of southern New England, was found at levels above state standards. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management will accept arsenic levels of seven parts per million. The soil underneath the footprint of the new school came back at three to sixteen parts per million from the various borings.

The most vociferous resident, Marie Knapp, who lives on Sullivan Street, asked repeatedly if Theis or DeSanti would let their children play on the pile. Neither responded directly, and DeSanti attacked the appropriateness of the question.

Knapp is also concerned about dust blowing off the pile. She was told the pile is watered daily, and it will be covered soon with a plastic sheet.

Another resident suggested there may be a cancer cluster to the northwest of the school site, which is also downstream for groundwater flow. "The current plan has been examined and approved by RIDEM," DeSanti said.

The long-term plan is to use clean soil in the pile as backfill at the site of the old school. The reduced pile will be covered with at least two feet of clean soil and seeded with native plants to anchor it in place. This solution has been used extensively at the Navy base.

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