Shuffle overages reach seven figures

Edgerton Demolition, Board of Education heating system not included

Mather Community Center Shuffle Darien

An artist’s rendering of the entrance to the Mather Community Center

More than three years after its approval, portions of the “shuffle” project are still incomplete and overages have now reached $1.05 million.

With a building committee led by former First Selectman Dave Campbell, the project was responsible for moving the Board of Education to its current location at 35 Leroy Avenue and constructing the Mather Community/Senior Center at 2 Renshaw Road with a budget of approximately $7 million.

While both of those facilities have been in operation for some time, overages continue to mount as additional work is carried out at 35 Leroy. The Board of Education has yet to accept the building, which had issues with lighting and heating during the last school year.

Speaking to the Board of Selectmen at their Aug. 24 meeting, Campbell explained the reasons for the continued overages.

The shuffle project’s general contractor, Dappreio Construction and Development, went bankrupt in the midst of the project, forcing the town to take on additional expenses to get things back on track. In addition to paying certain fees multiple times, the town also faced higher costs than expected for engineering and architectural services, asbestos removal and other necessary functions.

“When we realized the problems we were having at 35 Leroy Ave., we fired the HVAC engineer and we hired a new engineer to redesign the system (for the Mather Center) and to simplify it and it turns out that it works very work well,” Campbell told the board.

The town has also incurred a significant amount of legal fees as it works to recoup losses from Dappreio. During Monday’s meeting Town Attorney Wayne Fox said that the state had been unsuccessful so far in its own attempts to collect payments from the contractor.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson acknowledged the setbacks caused by Dappreio, saying that many of the added expenses were outside of the building committee’s control.

“It’s important to note that the process for this project was no different than any past project for the town of Darien, it’s not as if we were deficient in some way in our process,” she said. “We just learned in some challenging some ways things that we need to improve upon for the future to insure that it doesn’t happen again.”

When Campbell spoke to the board in September 2014 overruns were at $633,000, and at that time he told the Board of Selectmen that no future bills were expected. This came after a March 2014 report that overages would be in the range of $300,000. Darien is still eligible to receive $600,000 in state funding for the work on 35 Leroy Avenue, once the building is accepted by the Board of Education.

In the past, BoE chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross said the acceptance of the building was contingent on the heating system being completed. Darien’s Representative Town Meeting approved an appropriation of $220,000 to repair the perimeter heating system in May, a cost that is not included within the overages of the shuffle. That funding became available after the turn of the fiscal year and the work is expected to be completed soon.

A third building involved in the shuffle, the former senior center at 30 Edgerton Street, is currently in the process of being demolished, after sitting dormant since June 2014. The Board of Selectmen approved a transfer of $440,000 for the demolition of the building back in April, but the town is still in the process of obtaining the necessary permits.

The Edgerton demolition and the associated cost were not included within the original shuffle plan, as the Board of Education had expressed interest in the property. However, with no formal proposal made in regards to the 60-year-old building, it was decided that it created a growing safety risk in the neighborhood. When the board decided on the demolition, Stevenson said the property could still be used by the Board of Education in the future, but that it wasn’t her first choice.

Despite the overages, the shuffle has produced a pair of buildings that satisfy the needs of the town, some say. Senior Center membership and programming participation have surged in the year since the Mather Center opened.

“It is disappointing that it’s over budget, but I do hope the public has gotten a chance to see (the new buildings), especially the senior center, because it is a phenomenal building” Selectman Susan Marks said. “It is just a wonderful thing to give seniors of this town that they much deserved for many years, and it’s been a long time coming. So there is a lot of upside.”

According to Stevenson new superintendent Dan Brenner is more than satisfied with the building at 35 Leroy Avenue.

“He is very happy with that building,” Stevenson said. “Programmatically it serves his needs well, he thinks it’s a great building, he believes there are no other outstanding issues, aside from the perimeter heating.“

Still, the prolonged process of closing out the shuffle project and the mounting expenditures cannot be ignored, some say.

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