Mt. Lebanon High School renovation struggles to stay on budget

Published Jun 10, 2014 at 8:49 am (Updated Jun 10, 2014 at 8:49 am)

Mounting change orders are casting doubt on whether Mt. Lebanon school district can finish its $109 million high school renovation project on budget. The project is already expected to run longer than scheduled. According to information presented at a June 9 construction update, the new projected completion date is estimated as October 2015. Originally, the project was to have finished in the spring of that year.

Most renovated school spaces should be usable by January, however.

On June 16, the board will vote on another $258,000 in project change orders – $95,000 stems from an issue related to the gymnasium floor, which settled unexpectedly following a contractor mistake. Another $75,000 relates to structural revisions, notably to fire rating issues that first became evident earlier in the project.

According to project manager Tom Berkebile, 80 percent of the project contingency has been used to date. About 76 percent of costs have been billed and 71 percent of the scheduled work completed. If the school board approves all of the proposed change orders for June, about $850,000 of the budgeted contingency would remain.

“We do feel we will finish within the contingency,” Berkebile said. “We are taking into account other issues that have come up. We are not burying our heads in the sand on this. If we feel we need to take alternative steps, we will communicate that to you.”

According to superintendent Dr. Tim Steinhauer, in a worst case scenario the district could use money from its capital projects fund to cover cost overruns. He said that the district’s solicitor, Tom Peterson, would carefully review any such action to ensure were a sound business decision. Steinhauer emphasized that current forecasts still show the high school project finishing on budget.

School board member William Cooper asked whether contractors could hold the district liable for schedule overruns.

Berkebile replied that a contractor could attempt to hold the district liable for costs related to scheduling by arguing the district itself was responsible for the delays. He said in his opinion contractors would not be able to make that case.

District solicitor Peterson explained that any such claims would likely be resolved through litigation.

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