Setbacks in the Darien High School cafeteria expansion project have pushed the expected completion date into November but the project’s building committee is working to ensure that the extended construction does not impact the school’s ability to function in the fall. The project was brought to a halt shortly after breaking ground in April when the construction team discovered a duct bank containing power, telecommunication and cable lines.

After contacting Eversource Energy the building committee determined that the power lines would need to be moved in order to complete the cafeteria expansion and future projects near the DHS stadium. Following the recommendation of Superintendent Dan Brenner, the committee chose to delay any further work on the project until after graduation.

Committee Chairman Jill McCammon has said that work is expected to resume on June 25, and the power lines should be relocated by the end of July. Renovation of the existing cafeteria space in DHS would be completed in August in time for the start of school, and the external expansion would be completed mid-November. Officials had expressed some concerns that the construction would force the school to find an alternate locations summer programs and lunch in the fall, but the committee is working to prevent those outcomes.

In order to complete the additional electrical work, the Board of Finance and Board of Selectman have approved a $262,000 appropriation for the project, which was originally expected to cost $1.6 million. Between the expansion area and a redesigned floor plan, the project will add 95 new seats the cafeteria, which currently seats 330 students. During public hearings for the project DHS students expressed frustration with the lack of space cafeteria, explained that the crowded lunchroom often led to students eating in the hallways or outside of the school.

The building committee had originally requested an appropriation of $336,000 but the Board of Finance suggested that the town use some of the project’s contingency fund to cover the cost of the additional work. About $60,000 of the project’s remaining contingency fund will be used for the work, leaving roughly $25,000 remaining. Eversource Energy will complete their own portion of the work without cost to the town. Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky said the board does have its own contingency fund independent of the project to help out with more unexpected expenses should they arise.

“This just allows us to put additional scrutiny on a project that has gone way over budget, yes for unseen reasons. Next to the shuffle this is probably the most controversial town project in years and I think it deserves additional conversation if we’re going to go over,” Zagrodzky said.

The $262,000 appropriation will on the Representative Town Meeting’s June 11 agenda and will require their approval to move forward in time for the project to begin later in the month. In early 2017 the RTM Education Committee had mixed opinions on the need for the cafeteria expansion project but the project was ultimately approved after being deferred for a year.

kwebb@darientimes.com