The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 30, 2013

Changing times: School within budget despite alterations, official says

Randy Griffith
rgriffith@tribdem.com

— A new door here, a new manhole there, a surprise underground structure over there – and before you know it, there’s nearly $15,000 added to the new Conemaugh Valley Elementary School construction project.

Three change orders raised a few questions at this month’s school board meeting.

“I just wanted to know why a manhole costs $4,915.50,” board President Mark Vibostok said.

“I’m still trying to figure out how a door costs $5,171.75,” board member Francis Truscello Sr. said.

Both changes involve more work than originally anticipated, Superintendent David Lehman said.

The door was required by a building inspector reviewing plans for the library rooms, Lehman explained. The plans included a roll-up door that architects felt could serve as a second access to the room. Code inspectors disagreed.

“That really becomes an interpretation issue,” construction manager B.K. Horner said last week at the district office.

“When it’s a safety matter, it is better to err on the side of caution.”

Designers hoped to use the existing sanitary sewer manhole for the new school, but realized it had deteriorated beyond saving, Lehman said.

An old concrete foundation was discovered directly under one of the new building’s footer walls, Horner said. It was not structurally sufficient to support the new foundation.

But it took a crew with jackhammers, seven dump trucks and $4,793.40 to remove.

The three surprises will not put the $13 million elementary construction project over budget, Lehman stressed, adding that change orders are common with large projects. In fact, state law requires a project’s budget to include a 3 to 5 percent contingency line item.

And not all change orders add to the cost. At a contractor’s suggestion, a change in the type of tile used in the new school will shave about $45,000 off the total cost without sacrificing quality.

Lehman said reviewing and evaluating change orders is a valuable asset provided by independent construction managers, such as Horner and his colleagues at Foreman Program and Construction Managers of Zelienople.

In fact, the Foreman group guarantees that the savings will be greater than its fee.

As construction progresses at the William Penn Avenue location, there should be fewer change orders, Horner said.

“The biggest part of them is coming out of the ground,” he said. “That’s when you’re dealing with unknowns.”