Howe School ARPA

Project Narrative / Summary 

The Town of Billerica is asking for an additional $500,000 to go towards the completion of the Howe School. The Town will also be using additional funding sources from ARPA Funds for an additional $500,000 for a total of $1,000,000 additional dollars towards to the Howe School.


During the feasibility study and prior to project bidding the Town conducted two estimates for the project. The first estimate came back at $5,112,845 and the second came back at $5,433,934. These estimates also carried an escalation percentage. This allowed the Town to hedge against inflation but also have extra room in the budget. The Town carried $5,353,368 in the budget for the project. These numbers were put together and proposed to CPC just prior to the pandemic starting in early March. At that time nobody knew what was exactly in store for the project or the world.


Six months later (Sept / Oct 2020) as the Town was preparing to go out to bid for the project an abutter filed an appeal regarding the Howe School and the Conservation Commission decision. This stopped the entire project in its’ tracks. Town Counsel became involved and made us aware that the courts were -backed up due to the pandemic. The Town was concerned  that the abutter could delay the project by over a year if they used all their appeal rights. The Town was confident that it would prevail, but the delay could have derailed the project. BAT,V the future tenant, would have been without a home for over a year and prices to do the project would only continue to rise. Eventually the appeal was settled out of court allowing the Town to proceed.


The Town would have initially gone out to bid in December of 2020 but instead was not able to bring on a general contractor until six months later in June. Instead of going out to bid in a favorable time the Town went out to bid when the market was high and volatile. The low bidder came in at $5,293,548. While all the other bidders were almost a million dollars over our estimates. The contractor is experienced and understands that he left money on the table. Our relationship has been good but there is no doubt that through change orders and other methods they will attempt to recoup some of that cost. The Town had a healthy contingency, but it has been drawn down quickly. The escalation percentage was also not enough to combat the market and the delay in bidding.


Also, the Town Immediately felt the volatility of the market. The Town received no bidders for the masonry filed sub bids. Consequently, The Town had to go back out to bid for the masonry part of the building. The only bid that we received that was qualified to do the historical work was $124,300 over the budgeted amount.


Also, with a building being almost a 170+ years old you discover some issues that were unexpected in the feasibility study. For example when the foundation was pulled away it exposed a fieldstone foundation that was not stable and did not meet current structural code requirements. This was an unexpected cost and resulted in a redesign of how the basement would be stabilized and underpinned.


The project has also faced delays and change orders due to supply chain issues. Steel is currently hard to come across and expensive. This caused a redesign and a slight change of materials to the addition. This is not uncommon across this project or other projects the Town is working on.