Official: New High School Cafeteria Won’t Be Done by Start of School, But Project Going Smoothly

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After the discovery that an underground line was closer to the edge of the Darien High School building than originally thought, the project to expand the cafeteria this summer was delayed for weeks as plans were revised.

Now that it’s on track, it will still be incomplete by the start of school, but the project is “for the most part, on time and on budget,” Jill McCammon, the building committee chair told the Board of Selectmen on Monday night.

Even though the Cafeteria project won’t be complete before the start of school on Aug. 30, students will still be able to eat lunch in the building, and on new furniture, McCammon said.

The major bump in the road for the project was the discovery that the “duct bank” was much closer to the high school building than expected. A duct bank is a protective concrete casing formed during installation of underground lines — in this case cables for electricity, cable television and other services.

Instead of molding a relatively small casing, in this case it appears the contractor simply poured concrete in the trench once a pipe with the lines in it had been installed. A duct bank as much as a yard wide hadn’t been expected.

For safety reasons, the duct bank could not be touched during construction until the lines were moved. It required a special extra appropriation from the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting, and the approval of the Board of Selectmen before that could happen.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who has tried to keep good relations with area utilities on various projects over the years, was helpful in getting utilities to work together in moving the lines as quickly as possible to minimize the project’s disruption for students, McCammon indicated.

Stevenson in turn said she was impressed with McCammon’s and the building committee’s work. “You’re really doing a very thoughtful job,” the first selectman said.

Full Text of McCammon’s Status Update

Here’s McCammon’s report, as prepared, to the Board of Selectmen on Monday night. Additional information, including additions that she made while reading the report to selectmen, have been inserted in italics:

Thank you for having me here tonight. As I am sure you recall, when we broke ground in April, we found that the power line for the high school building was running too closely to the cafeteria to enable us to accomplish our seating goals for the new cafeteria [because the building couldn’t be expanded over the duct bank for safety reasons].

After a series of meetings through the spring in which you all granted us the additional scope and the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting allocated additional funding, I am pleased to report that the Darien High School Cafeteria Building Committee was able to start construction again on June 25.

To keep timeline accounting clear, we broke the project into three sub-projects:

1. Renovation of the interior existing Cafeteria;

2. Movement of the duct bank and utility lines; and lastly, because it was dependent on the movement of the power lines,

3. Expansion of the Cafeteria building.

Financially, the duct bank finances are being managed with a separate project code. Tonight, I will give a status update on each of these subprojects.

I’ll start with the duct bank. Work on this began June 25 and is near complete. The four utilities [that have cables] within the old duct bank, have relocated their lines into the new duct bank [located somewhat farther away from the building].

All the utilities are operating at their original capacity, and there have been no connectivity issues brought forward. Paving has started and the space, in front of the gymnasium and bleachers, is scheduled to be turned back over to administration […] Monday, Aug. 13.

From a management perspective, there are two things about this project I would like to note.

* First, the relationship between the Board of Selectmen and the utility companies was anything from helpful to critical [in] getting the utility lines moved on time.

* Second, once we got into good contact with Altice, the cable vendor [successor to Cablevision], we found out that they were running a fiber line through the conduit, which as I understand it is part of their contract to provide services to all municipal buildings. Altice also pointed us to an additional vendor, Crown Castle, who were providing fiber optic to the high school through an additional line. Given that the lack of as-builts [records of what’s been built so that surprises don’t come up in the future — as the duct bank location did] has been a big part of the conversations around this project, we thought worth noting that even had we had as-builts, these fiber lines were likely put into place afterwards [after construction of the high school building].

Financially, the duct bank project is running on budget at this time. Looking at the financials, you will note that we paid Frontier and Crown Castle to move their lines. Altice and Eversource moved their lines at no cost to the project.

[McCammon added: The project budgeted $15,000 to Frontier to move its line, but the charge was only $12,000; the estimate for Altice was $10,000, but that was done at no charge.]

This leaves us with a credit of $4,839 dollars, which given the additional vendor and two additional lines, is a very positive outcome for this line item.

The interior renovation portion of the Cafeteria Addition and Alterations Project is on schedule. Mechanical, electrical, fire protection, and plumbing finish installations continue on pace and are largely complete. The acoustic, flooring, paint, and mill work finishes are happening this week.

We have scheduled the majority of the renovation to end this Friday, Aug. 17. Furniture delivery is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 20, in order to ensure students will have a place to eat on the first day of school.

While the cafeteria is not usable at this stage, the basic safety measures required to ensure we can get a Permission to Reoccupy the space are complete. The fire marshal and building inspectors have been in regular communication with the project team and inspections are planned through this week.

Though we all would have preferred delivery of the full cafeteria space on this date, there will be more seats available in the renovated space due to the acquisition of the faculty lounge and better space planning.

On the whole, the renovation is running relatively smoothly. There have been a few smaller change orders. We do have one outstanding issue with some of the acoustical treatments the project team and committee are working through.

Lastly, now that the utility lines have been moved, the addition portion of the project is underway. Excavation of the footings is complete and the soil load bearing capacity has been tested and approved by the special testing laboratory. The forming of the footings, rebar [steel used inside concrete to reinforce it] installation, and concrete placement is scheduled for this week, with intermittent special inspections in between.

Financially, I have little of note to report on these two projects. We continue to keep a very close eye on our contingency line.

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