Despite all selectmen seemingly in agreement with installing a natural gas line at 35 Leroy Ave., the new location of the Board of Education offices, two of them voted against it Monday night.
The board previously debated funding the $129,703 installation because it was being paid for with money from the Board of Finance’s infrastructure contingency account, rather than the Shuffle budget or the project’s contingency account.
See edit, The “Shuffle” board.
The Board of Ed move is part of the larger project known as the Shuffle, or the move of the senior center to Town Hall, to the area vacated by the Board of Ed.
The project was approved last year by the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Finance and the appropriation of $6.9 million was approved by the Representative Town Meeting just before last November’s election.
The project has also seemed to split its support and opposition down party lines, with the Democrats largely opposing the project and Republicans largely supporting it.
Selectman Dave Campbell, who conceived of the project during his last term as first selectman, is now serving as the building committee chairman.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and Selectman Jerry Nielsen, the remainder of the Republican majority on the board, have supported the project.
Democrats David Bayne and John Lundeen used their opposition to the project as one of their platforms during Lundeen’s failed bid for first selectman last November.
Bayne remained opposed to the contingency funding Monday night, he said, because he felt that the cost should be attributed to the Shuffle, and mentioned concern for other costs that might come forward causing “budget creep.”
Campbell explained that the project went to bid later than he expected because the use of 35 Leroy Ave. as an education facility entitled the town to some reimbursement. It has already earned the town $400,000 on the original purchase of the old library building.
However, the state’s education department needed to review the plans for the new Board of Education offices to be eligible for reimbursement. There’s a possibility the town could earn another $200,000 from the state.
The project is expected to go out to bid next week. But Campbell said that Yankee Gas requires a contract before it will put 35 Leroy Ave. on its queue to install the gas line. Because Yankee Gas is the only vendor to do install the gas line, and because they stop installing after Nov. 1, Campbell said he didn’t want to miss the window for the project.
Campbell pointed out that the “Board of Finance isn’t going to give us more money than we need.”
Bayne said that the last time the board had discussed the Shuffle, Campbell had estimated it was about 5% over budget, but said there were no real numbers until bids came in.
Nielsen again said that construction projects are fluid and until some actual bids come in, there is no over or under budget.
Nielsen also talked about the savings driven by having a natural gas line, and Bayne said he didn’t “dispute the need,” but wondered what other “unfunded budget items” there were in the Shuffle project.
Bayne suggested items like the removal of underground oil tanks at 35 Leroy Ave. might not be included in the budget. Town Administrator Karl Kilduff pointed out that the cost of removing those had been built into the purchase price and the amount would still cover the removal.
Lundeen said part of the frustration on his and Bayne’s part was that they weren’t being told all the information that was out there. Campbell said there was nothing new to report until bids came in.
Lundeen asked about quarterly reports from the building committee and Stevenson pointed out that the last report the board had received had been in May from previous building committee chairman Norm Guimond, within the quarterly report timeframe.
Lundeen later followed up with The Darien Times to confirm the last update had not been in May, but in March, and an update was overdue.
Stevenson said she was willing to support the transfer of the $120,000 for the gas line and said Liz Mao, Board of Finance chairman, also supported it.
The board voted 3-2 to support the transfer, along party lines.
The Shuffle project goes out to bid next week. Bids are expected back early September.