Members of the Boathouse/Hains Park Improvements Committee (BHPIC) clashed repeatedly at a Special Meeting held last Monday (Sept. 12) in the Old Lyme Town Hall. Tensions were high since work on the boathouse — which had begun in mid-August — had been subject to various delays and cost increases.
The delays had arisen after it was determined that the existing foundation on which it had been planned to construct the new boathouse, was not strong enough for the new building. This, in turn, meant significant additional costs were about to be incurred to demolish and rebuild the foundation.
The first item on the agenda was to review a draft project budget, which had been requested some three weeks previously by Old Lyme’s Finance Director Nicole Stajduhar and Old Lyme Town Treasurer Timothy Griswold.
Paul Gianquinto, BHPIC Co-Chairman, had distributed a draft budget dated Sept. 8, to the committee but Old Lyme Parks and Recreation Committee Chairman Robert Dunn maintained the document, “… is not a budget.” He described it as an “expenditure budget” and contended that the committee should not move forward with any further expenditures until a “proper budget” was not only established but also agreed with Stajduhar and Griswold.
Dunn declared unequivocally, “This project has escalated to anything beyond what we thought.” To support that contention, he noted the original project budget of $883,000, which was approved by the town at an Oct. 6, 2014, meeting (based on numbers agreed by the BHPIC on Sept. 30, 2014) showed $44,000 budgeted for the architect, but he noted that number now stands at over $63,000.
Similarly, Dunn said the estimated (proposed and committed) construction costs for Phase 1 (construction of the boathouse) had risen from the budgeted amount of over $533,000 to over $706,000, representing a 30 percent increase. The original number ($533,900) had been presented to the community in a update by the Old Lyme Selectmen on Jan. 25, 2016.
The project is funded by a State of Connecticut Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant in the amount of $478,000, which was approved in 2013, and an additional $405,000 that was approved at the Oct. 6, 2014, Old Lyme Special Town Meeting. An additional $50,800 was raised from private donations and added to the funds for the project. The total available for the project is therefore $933,500.
Dunn explained his major concern regarding the cost overruns relates the fact that as costs rise beyond the original budget for Phase 1 (boathouse construction), the amount remaining for the items that benefit the broader community (Phase 2) diminishes. That amount related to Phase 2, which the Old Lyme Selectmen noted in their Jan. 25, 2016, update to residents was $219,988, was intended for upgrades to the bathrooms, improvements to the parking lot and a community gazebo.
With the cost overruns to date, Dunn contended that the project was now “ … going up to over one million dollars.” Throughout the meeting, there was general agreement that costs had risen on the project and that, as First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said, “We have to look for savings wherever we can.”
Dunn made a motion to table all further expenses until the committee had established a budget that was approved by the Town’s Finance Director and Treasurer. During discussion of the motion, Gianquinto stated, “A budget was never approved or established by the town.” Griswold, who was in the audience, noted, “After the project was approved at town meeting, [it would be expected] a budget would be prepared that would build in all allocations and expenditures.”
Griswold added that since the project had changed substantially subsequent to the town meeting (the second floor has been removed due to requirements related to the building being considered an “educational facility”) and “the scope of the project became less, [one] would think the committee would prepare a new budget.”
Old Lyme Parks and Recreation Director Don Bugbee, who is a voting member of the BHPIC, commented, “This is a hot-button topic. The committee needs to be fiscally responsible to the town.” He added, “A lot of people ask me questions [about the budget] and I can’t answer them.” Gianquinto countered firmly, “I believe this is a budget.”
Griswold offered to work with Gianquinto to prepare a budget that included the additional information required to monitor actual expenses against proposed line item budgeted amounts so that, in Griswold’s words, “As costs increase, the budget would say you’re getting close to the maximum budget … [thus ensuring] there is no wolf at the door.”
There was considerable heated discussion about what the cost would be if the project were stopped, which was the predicted result of Dunn’s motion. Dunn said he hoped a budget could be agreed the next day, but Gianquinto was adamant, “The committee needs to make decisions tonight and to move forward.”
Bugbee asked what would happen if there were insufficient funds to “do a bathhouse.” Gianquinto responded that there were three possibilities — to collect additional funds, to reduce cost of the boathouse through value engineering or to place the bathhouse in the capital plan and treat it as a separate project. Reemsnyder pointed out that a similar situation had arisen with the Sound View project, which had originally included restrooms and a green, but that for cost reasons those items had now been removed from the plans.
When the vote was taken on the motion, it was defeated five to one with BHPIC Co-chairmen Gianquinto and Paul Fuchs voting against it joined by Old Lyme Rowing Association Chairman Gregory Hack along with BHPIC members John Parker and Philip Carney. Dunn voted in favor of the measure and Bugbee abstained.
After that vote, which enabled the committee to proceed with discussion of the draft budget that Gianquinto had prepared, Griswold commented, “You know a large expense is looming,” pointing out that “This is a snapshot as at right now — there’s no mention of a $100,000 change order.” Gianquinto submitted, “We can add additional lines,” to which Griswold responded, “[To prepare a budget] you will have to tell me… things that might come up.”
The change order Griswold mentioned was to demolish and replace the foundation. When it was discussed at the previous week’s Old Lyme Selectmen’s meeting, an amount of approximately $110,000 was being considered, but Gianquinto had negotiated during the ensuing week with the contractor and achieved a cost reduction to a little over $103, 000. He stated he was not happy to be paying the amount but did not feel there was much choice. That change order was approved along with one to delete the cupolas from the boathouse, which saved $5,900, and two others relating to hardware, which both will result in small credits to the budget totaling just over $1,000.
At the end of the meeting, Old Lyme Selectwoman MaryJo Nosal commented it had been, “A very tough meeting.” She thanked all the members for their patience and Griswold for being there to help explain and resolve the budget matters. Finally, she concluded, “The community wants this done. We are a leader in this [type of project.] Let’s get it done.”