WEST HAVEN >> Democratic mayoral challenger Nancy Rossi laid the blame for the escalating cost of the West Haven High School re-construction project at the feet of Mayor Ed O’Brien Tuesday, saying he’s “costing the taxpayers of West Haven more than $9 million because he chose to play politics” with it.
Back in 2014, “We had a project that was going to cost $124 Million with the state of Connecticut reimbursing” all but a $30 million local share, Rossi, who has previously raised questions about the project’s financing and construction schedule, said in a release.
“The Mayor, being himself and wanting complete control on the building committee, stalled the project,” said Rossi, one of two candidates challenging O’Brien in the upcoming election. “He appointed new members to the building committee, and said the project was too expensive and that he wanted to create a better and less expensive high school.”
But instead, “We now have a project design which includes 14 less classrooms, and a price tag of $133 million, which is $9 million more than the original cost,” Rossi said.
“This is another example of Mayor O’Brien being in over his head,” she said. “He can’t balance a budget, and now he has cost the taxpayers another $9 million for a completely unnecessary delay.”
O’Brien responded Tuesday by saying, “I didn’t put the project on hold. The state suggested we had to put the project on hold. They came down and suggested that we re-think what we were doing.”
The decision not to move forward came “after many, many meetings” between the city and the state, he said.
The extra cost that Rossi referred to “is asbestos” that the city is removing rather than encapsulating under the latest design, as well as more solid materials instead of lighter-weight materials being used in the front of the school, O’Brien said.“Yeah, there’s escalation, but there’s also a lot of good quality on the other side,” he said. “What I think is important is that we’re building a high school, built to the (projected future) enrollment of our high school, and we’re building it within budget.”
In a Oct. 27, 2015, New Haven Register story, “West Haven High School project put on hold,” O’Brien, Finance Director Kevin McNabola, Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro and then-High School Building Committee Chairman Ken Carney announced that the project would be put on hold for a few years while the city got its finances in order.
“If we started (the bulk of) the job now, the funding might not be in place ... and we might not be able to access the market” because of the city’s then-current credit rating, deficit and debt level, O’Brien said at the time, adding that the bottom line was, “Don’t spend money that you don’t have.”
State officials gave the city assurances at the time that West Haven would not lose state funding or its 76 percent reimbursement rate because the project already had begun.
Rossi said that at the June 12 City Council meeting, a representative from construction manager Gilbane Building Co. “acknowledged that the cost of the project has risen because of the delay.”
The Gilbane representative said that “the cost increase caused by the delay is consistent with the industry average of 4 percent escalation cost for each year the project was delayed,” Rossi said. “Mayor O’Brien caused the delay by putting the project on hold.”
O’Brien, who also is being challenged by Republican City Council member David Riccio, R-At Large, said Gilbane project executive Amar Shamas was referring to potential future price escalation if the city doesn’t move forward now, not anything that may have happened in the past.
Gilbane was hired by the new building committee to replace former construction manager Turner Construction when the project resumed last year.
West Haven “has so much potential, but we have to use common sense and good business practices if we want our city to flourish,” said Rossi. “The Mayor appointed a dozen friends to the building committee, wasted the time and hard work of the former committee members, and the result is a much higher price tag for the taxpayers to pay.
“We couldn’t afford $124 million two years ago,” Rossi said. “What makes the mayor think we can afford $133 million now? West Haven cannot continue to operate with such recklessness and incompetence. We need to instill professionalism, and demand accountability. The only way to do that is to act professional, and be accountable!
“We have to do better,” she said.
Original Article: http://www.nhregister.com/government-and-politics/20170620/west-haven-mayor-challenger-square-off-over-9m-increase-to-build-new-high-school