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With the start of school looming on the horizon and still no certificate of occupancy for the new Milton Elementary School building in hand, frustrated school board members voted Wednesday to withhold the district’s July payment to the general contractor for the project.
In discussion before the vote, architect Francis Scott told the board that the last deadline set for turning over ownership of the building “was today. Now it’s July 27th.” He said the contractor has promised that all the “punch list” items would be complete by that date.
General contractor Tim Breeding of Teton Corporation was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting due to a prior commitment at his church.
The new school year starts Tuesday, Aug. 11, just over two weeks after the new deadline.
Complicating the situation, Scott said, is a change in state law last year that requires that all inspections be completed before the certificate of occupancy can be granted. Otherwise, he said, the board already would have the certificate. He reminded them that at the end of the Bedford Elementary School project, the board was able to take ownership before the inspections were completed and all the work was done.
At this point, he said, approval forms from state-certified inspectors are needed for plumbing, the range-hood fire suppression system in the cafeteria, all electrical work in the building and the fire-alarm system; these must be completed before Teton can turn the building over to the board.
Further, the law requires each subcontractor in charge of these areas must be on site for the inspection, he added.
“That’s a good thing,” because the subcontractor can immediately answer any questions an inspector might have, Scott said, but added that the catch will be getting the subcontractors to show up when the inspectors are there.
Scott acknowledged that the contractor has had a hard time just getting the subcontractors to show up at the building and finish tasks on the punch list. The punch list itemizes tasks the board and the general contractor have asked the subcontractors to complete.
Still, Scott assured board members that most of the items on the 52-page list have been addressed. Most of the remaining punch-list items are touch-up painting and other fine-detail fixes, he said.
He could not, however, provide the board with an updated punch list showing what is done and what needs to be done.
“We will need to go back and check off each item, one by one, and attach it to the substantial completion certificate,” which then will lead to the final certificate of occupancy, Scott said.
“It seems like an awful lot to do in such a short period of time,” said board Chairman Jill Simmons. “Fran, what are we going to do if we find a major thing that hasn’t been done?”
“What, as a board, have we neglected to do that we [have come to] this point,” asked board member J.W. Sachleben. “We have approved everything that’s been asked of us, and here we are ready to start school and we’re still sitting here. … I have really been worried over it, that I have neglected my job as a board member. Every time we set a date to get the building, it never happens. I don’t want excuses, I want answers.”
“All I can say is, blame it on human nature,” Scott said, explaining that subcontractors generally want to do their work with no other subcontractors around to “get in their way.”
Scott said he has been reminding the general contractor of the deadlines, and said the contractor has been “riding herd” on the subcontractors as much as possible. “We make it clear to the subcontractors that [they’ll] have to put up with working together. But that’s just an observation. It really doesn’t solve the problem.”
“There is no reason for this to be at the point it is now,” board member Tom Cook. “I blame you, I blame Tim and I blame us, because we apparently didn’t take steps to make sure it gets done.”
Cook made a motion that two checks be withheld for payment “until we have our documentation completed by July 27.” One is a $70,510 check for the Teton Corporation; the other is a $1,738 check to Scott’s architectural firm, Scott-Klausing and Company. The motion carried by a 3-2 vote. Cook, Sachleben and board member Kim Temple voted in favor of the motion; Simmons and board member Scott Burrows voted against withholding the payments.
“We’re retaining 5 percent already,” Burrows said. The state mandated that 5 percent of the total cost of any school building project be held back in a contingency fund. Monies in the fund are released when the project is completed. “We can hold that until next year. But, if they’ve met this much of the contract, we need to pay them.”
“I don’t mind at all that you are holding it,” Scott told the board after the vote. “If I were sitting on your board, I’d be glad to vote that way.”
“I think as a board, we have an obligation,” Sachleben added. “We want the school ready” for the first day of the school year.