Main Line Times
ROSEMONT - For months, critics of the Lower Merion School District have been saying the new Harriton High School was too big and too expensive.
It seems now that the first round of bids have come back from potential contractors, the critics may have been right.
Now district officials say they must remedy the situation.
The bids for the reconstruction of Harriton High School were unsealed during a board committee meeting last Thursday morning. The total cost for the building portion of the project came in approximately $13 million more than the district expected.
"The Lower Merion School District...recommends all bids be rejected," Lower Merion School Supt. Jamie Savedoff announced during Monday night's school board meeting.
Last year, the board passed a resolution that costs for the entire Harriton project would not exceed $98.2 million. This figure includes both the building and grounds.
For the construction of the new 330,000-square-foot building, last week's bids put the project at more than $89 million. This is about $13 million more than the $75.6 million estimated costs for just the building.
The board unanimously approved the subsequent motion rejecting the bids. The board then directed its architect, KCBA Architects, to review its proposal and find ways to trim its design.
The district's original proposal cut the reconstruction job into eight separate categories.
Those categories included general construction, demolition, plumbing, theatrical, food services, mechanical, electrical and data cabling.
"Of the eight bids, six of them were at or below the projected costs," Savedoff said following the meeting.
Having presided over several school reconstruction projects during his terms as head of various school districts, Savedoff indicated that the first round of bids were often over budget.
"In my experience...it is not uncommon [for a project] to go out to bid more than once," Savedoff said.
The electrical proposal and general construction portion of the work were the two that came back over budget, Savedoff said.
The largest element of the entire reconstruction project is the general construction
Boro Construction of King of Prussia submitted the lowest bids in both areas that were over budget.
The two areas that came in over budget were the general construction and electrical. Boro Construction submitted the lowest bids in both categories. Boro's bid for the general construction came in at $61.97 million, or 26 percent over the estimated $49 million. Their total bid for electrical of $6.8 million or 31 percent more than the estimated $8.9 million was also the lowest bid in that category.
Although the electrical and general construction were the only two categories to come in over budget, some of the others came in scientifically under budget. The data cabling contract came in at 40 percent less with a price tag of $832,000. That part of the project had been estimated to cost $1.4 million.
Many of the other areas came in near the original estimates. The bid for the demolition came in at $1.187 million, food service at $997,000, theatrical $1 million, mechanical $10 million and plumbing $4.69 million.
Since the designs for the new Harriton High School were announced last year, observers have said the project was too big and too expensive.
"To us, it means we need a new Act 34 hearing," Bill Manginelli of Narberth said immediately following the meeting. Manginelli is part of an organization called Budget Reform for Student Learning.
Act 34 hearings refer to the state law that mandates a public hearing be held on the construction of new school buildings. The law, otherwise known as the Taj Mahal Act, is designed to allow the public input in school construction projects.
The district held an Act 34 hearing on the Harriton project last fall. Manginelli's group successfully pressured the district into telecasting a taped copy of the Act 34 hearing on Channel 6.
With the rejection of the bids Monday night, district officials now say the start of the reconstruction would be delayed by approximately two months.
Savedoff said they had been planning to begin construction in April.
Under the new schedule, KCBA will make revisions to the project through March, send out new Requests for Proposals in April, receive new bids on May 7, award contracts May 14 and begin construction in June. The project is still expected to be completed on schedule by the fall of 2009.
The original plan called for a three-story, 325,000-square-foot school to be constructed on the site of the current Harriton High School, near the current school building. Once the new school is finished and occupied, the old school will be demolished.