Town Estimates School Appeals Cost $1.75 Million to Date
The Board of Selectmen opted to move forward with the bid process on January 24 following a vote on Monday night.
For the first time during the appeals process, the Board of Selectmen quantified the impact of the appeals process.
Selectmen discussed at Monday’s meeting whether or not to go forward with the bid process for work on the high school despite the school currently before Superior Court. Chairman Mike Newhouse said that when trade bids are unsealed after they come in by January 24, the town is estimating there will be an additional $1,755,000 that is attributed to the appeals.
He added that the last six months will prove to be especially costly, counting for about $1,060,000 alone and the numbers will continue to climb the longer the town waits.
“In round numbers, we are expecting that if we put off the work that we contemplate, it’s likely going to cost $1 million every six months,” said Newhouse.
Newhouse said the only good news is that non-trade bids, which include site work, demolition, concrete, steel and the turf field, will not be a part of the bids package this month. Those services will be negotiated separately through the construction manager at risk, and Newhouse said that will likely keep the cost from spiking too significantly.
By a unanimous vote at Monday’s meeting, board members opted to move forward with the bid process.
“I think we’re all on the same page,” said selectman Mike McCoy. “We want to make sure this high school project continues and opens in a reasonably short period of time.”
The timeline of abutter Gerry O’Reilly’s Superior Court appeal is not yet clear. Newhouse said the dispute could be settled as early as this spring or as late as the end of the calendar year.
Because of the pending litigation, selectmen have offered little comment on the appeals in recent months. But during Monday’s meeting, board members spoke candidly about their frustration with the delays.
“I think we’re coming towards the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Mike Champoux. “I find it reprehensible and shameful that this small number of folks have cost the town $1.75 million of their neighbors’ money.”
But selectmen weren’t the only ones who spoke their mind on the appeals at the meeting. George Lingenfelter, who was at one point the spokesman for the 10-resident appeal, said he resented the fact that opposing residents have been made out to look like the enemy.
“I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding between the town and the appellants,” said Lingenfelter. “I can’t speak for all of the appellants, but none that I am aware of was against the new high school. I think there could have been a better proposal. But I’m not against the project. A lot of the righteous indignation, you’re not giving the benefit of the doubt as to what is motivating (the appellants). You tell the town that (the school) is for the children and we’re horrible people, and that’s not what it’s about.”
Lingenfelter said his stance all along has been that the town should have paid the money to have the oil cleaned up at the school site. He believes if the town had done that, the cost would have been about the same as what the delays have cost, and there would have been no appeal.
“Rather than being more forceful, the town should have reached out,” said Lingenfelter.
Following the regular business of the meeting, a new possibility surfaced in the appeals process.
Mike McCoy made a motion, which was seconded and unanimously voted on, to have the board move into executive session to discuss the process of taking control of O’Reilly’s Wildwood Street property by eminent domain.
Newhouse said during the previous discussion at the meeting that when there were two appeals involving multiple residents, that was not an option that made sense to the town. But now that O’Reilly’s appeal is the only one stopping school construction, it may be a possibility.
Check back later Tuesday for more coverage of Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting.