Sept. 6, 2001 – A multimillion-dollar escalation in the cost of rebuilding three St. Thomas schools devastated by Hurricane Marilyn nearly six years ago has gotten the attention of at least one senator and some of her constituents.
Sen. Lorraine Berry wrote to Amadeo Francis, director of the Public Finance Authority, on Aug. 31 requesting copies of change orders and expenditures, along with the names of the contractors for the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and Lockhart and Peace Corps Elementary School reconstruction projects.
"I am increasingly requested by my constituents to provide information and explanations regarding the exorbitant cost of construction of these three schools on St. Thomas," Berry said in the letter
Construction work is completed on the Lockhart and Peace Corps schools, Juel Anderson, Education Department spokeswoman, said Thursday. But Berry said she has questions about the construction figures she has gotten so far on those projects as well as the still-under-construction Boschulte Middle School.
In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Aug. 23, Francis said that as of March 31, total expenditures came to $10.2 million for Lockhart Elementary, and $10.9 million for Peace Corps School. "That was in March," Berry said on Thursday. "What will the costs have amounted to by now?"
The costs for BCB have risen dramatically beyond projections, while construction is what Francis recently called "woefully behind schedule." At the August Finance Committee meeting, he said construction costs initially pegged at $20.5 million had reached $28 million. He did not detail the reasons for the overruns except to say costs had risen on all construction materials and it had been necessary to implement change orders.
Berry said in her letter to Francis that the $28 million figure "may well be exceeded by the completion of the school in late 2002."
Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said at a press conference on Aug. 23 that with the start of the school year, classes would be held in the new facility while work continued in some areas, but that the whole school would be ready for use by December. That was the same day that Francis told senators the school was behind schedule and over budget and was not expected to be finished until late in Fiscal Year 2002. The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1, 2001, to Sept. 30, 2002.
As far back as two and a half years ago, construction costs for the schools were rising dramatically. In a December 1999 Senate Education Committee meeting, Brian Turnbull, Public Finance Authority program coordinator, said $42.3 million had been budgeted for the overall reconstruction but the projected costs already had risen to $44 million.
The main reason, Turnbull said then, was that the contractors' original proposal didn't include removing the temporary modular classrooms in place at the three schools, demolition of their foundations, paving of roads and parking lots, or relocating furniture and equipment from the modular units into new buildings. At the time, Turnbull did not explain how the exclusion of these items had gone unnoticed when the original proposal was approved.
Turnbull also told the Education Committee then that BCB, which had been targeted for completion in mid-2001, had fallen behind schedule. He attributed the delays to requests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provided most of the funding for the rebuilding, site conditions, adverse weather and the high cost of concrete on St. Thomas.
Calls to Turnbull for comment on Thursday were not returned. Keith Richards, the governor's director of capital improvement planning, was off island Thursday and unavailable for comment on the matter.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here