Rink Committee Scramble To Reduce/Explain Project’s $41.4M Price Tag Before Going Before Select Board

Photo: The interior fo the proposed rink in Belmont

In an announcement that caught the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee by surprise, the design team and owner’s project manager presented the long-awaited price tag to build a new 48,800 sq.-ft. skating rink and athletic/recreation center adjacent to Harris Field on Concord Avenue.

What surprised the members was the estimated cost: a whopping $41.4 million, roughly $7 million more than the highest point of the $28 million to $34 million range the committee first estimated a final cost would be back in July.

The news, coming six weeks before the Nov. 8 general election in which voters will vote on a debt exclusion to pay for the project, had a number of members worried the cost estimate could scare off voters from supporting the rink on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“If we came under $30 million, this meeting would be all roses and sunshine,” said Owner’s Project Manager Tom Gatzunis of CHA. “But that’s the reality.”

The committee will meet at a hastily called noontime meeting on Friday, Oct. 1, to discuss the next steps as it scrambles to find ways to reduce the amount before heading to the Select Board on Monday, Oct. 3, for a review of the project.

Project architects Ted Galante and Gatzunis presented to the committee an overview of expenses at Wednesday’s meeting, going step by step to lay out each component of the construction phase.

The construction cost is $20.5 million, which is slightly higher than what was estimated in July. Add $3.7 million in liability insurance, construction management fees, and general conditions costs. The line items that rocketed the price were design and OPM contingencies and a reserve for escalating costs totaling $13.8 million. Tag on $1.5 million for hazardous removal associated with the demolition of the White Field House, improvements to parking, and roof solar panels; the price comes in at $36.6 million. Finally, assorted soft costs such as paying the firms, administrative work, and installing benches at $4.7 million, you come up with a total of $41.4 million.

Galante said his firm has hired Talevi and Haesche, a construction cost estimating consulting firm, for the past 14 years, and its budget has been “consistently on target with its estimates.”

“Nobody likes the number. I get it; it’s expensive,” said Galante.

See a chart of the costs below

Reaction to the announcement ranged from dread to defiance, as the new figure was well beyond what the leaders of the Building Committee had presented to the public as their best guess

“I see everyone rocking and rolling in their seats, twisting and turning and trying to grasp this whole thing,” said member and former Belmont High School Boys’ Hockey Coach Dante Muzzioli.

Some critics were blunt about the news.

“My biggest concern [is] we’re coming out with a number that is just too high,” said Tom Caputo, the select board representative to the committee.

“It is well beyond the high end of the range that we’ve talked about with the Select Board and well beyond where the community has already started to engage in the discussion,” said Caputo. The reason the select board approved placing the debt exclusion on the November ballot was the assumption that the final cost would be inside the range presented by the committee. “I think this number is bordering on unworkable.”

Will the community wrap its arms around the rink?

While not criticizing the process or the design team’s assumptions, member Muzzioli told the committee that “we really got to get a number that this community can wrap their arms around.” But after speaking to supporters who were waiving on their commitment for a rink at a $35 million price point, Muzzioli said the new cost “is going to be hard to swallow.”

“My personal request would be, what levers do we have in the next few days” to pull costs from the project, said Caputo. Suggestions began on strategically stripping program components from the rink, such as the high school locker rooms, and possibly removing or delaying the $1.5 million allocated to the rooftop solar array.

Chair Mark Haley and member Dynelle Long immediately questioned assumptions made by the cost estimators on the two contingency line items, specifically if the reserve should cover the entire cost of the project rather than just the construction of the project. “This just blows [up] the number,” said Haley. Savings were also suggested by taking a different look at the reserve for escalating costs pegged at 12.5 percent annually.

Both Galante and Gatzunis warned that making changes to the project at the 11th hour could backfire on the committee.

“I understand this is a big number for the town and to get this funded will be a heavy lift if it’s even possible. But we just want to be clear that we’re confident in this number and dropping it may put us in a much worse place later,” said Galante. “I think it is important to be cautious, but by being potentially overly cautious, we will put the project at risk in its own way.”

Galante noted that it has been requests by the town, schools and residents as well as the committee stepping up and taking on additional programs – such as the lack of lockers at the new Middle and High School and the loss of athletic and town space when the White Field House is removed – “that is really driving the construction cost numbers.”

Members expressed that the committee should stay firm with the plan presented Wednesday, pointing out

While not disagreeing that the designer should look to reduce cost where he can “I want us to keep in mind that there are stakeholders … who are interested in voting for this for some of the reasons we’re talking about cutting out,” said Meghan Moriarty, chair of the School Committee and its representative on the board. She noted the Recreation Department sees both the proposed second-floor community room and skate rentals as revenue producing and are very important to promote its programs at the rink.

“Although we are trying to make this palatable and fair to those in our community … we are looking for the one-plus vote to get this passed and some of those are coming from people” who are expecting locker rooms, solar panels and year round use.

Frank French Jr., the Belmont Youth Hockey Board member on the committee, said it’s important to inform and remind voters that it’s not a skating rink they will be supporting but an athletic facility.

“It is a point to explain to the community how much more they are getting than just a rink. It’s not an apples to apples comparison.”

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