Converted Manchester Buildings Ready For New School Year

Construction of a new fifth- and sixth-grade school will finish in time for the start of classes next week, but above the original cost estimate, officials said.

Taxpayers need not fear, however, because the overall school modernization plan they approved in 2014 will cost less than initial calculations, town officials said.

Two years ago, the architect for the fifth- and sixth-grade school project told the board of education that the conversion of the long-shuttered Cheney Building and its adjacent boiler building, along with an expansion of Bennet Academy, would cost about $17.9 million. The actual cost will be about $19.9 million, Facilities Project Manager Christopher Till said Monday.

After state reimbursement, town taxpayers were to be responsible for about $7 million of the Cheney/Bennet costs, according to initial estimates. That figure is now about $7.5 million, Till said.

But General Manager Scott Shanley said the added costs will be offset by savings in the overall $84 million modernization project, which includes the fifth- and sixth-grade school combining Bennet Academy with the Cheney buildings. The overall plan also includes "like-new" renovations and additions to Waddell and Verplanck elementary schools and the closings of Robertson and Washington elementary schools.

For this school year, Waddell students will attend classes in the Cheney buildings while work at their school is completed in time for the 2018-19 school year. Waddell teachers have been in the new buildings for several days setting up their classrooms, Till said. In 2018-19, all fifth-graders will attend the Cheney/Bennet school.

Costs for the new school exceeded initial estimates in part because a $640,000 sewer line installation on Wells Street was added to the project, Till said. Also, contractors discovered during demolition that more structural reinforcement work was necessary, he said.

"The renovations of the Cheney and boiler buildings were both very challenging based on the type of construction and the age of the structures," Till said.

The promise of savings on the overall modernization project comes in part from lower-than-expected bids for the ongoing Waddell project, Shanley said. Also, town leaders' decision to accelerate the overall project by one year means construction cost increases will be avoided, he said.

Originally a trade school, the Cheney Building and its attached power house retain their historic facades and are connected to the four Bennet buildings by a raised walkway. The boiler building's smokestack remains, along with iron boiler doors and freight elevator doors that were incorporated into the interior design to maintain a link to the structures' early 20th century history.

The Cheney buildings include 21 classrooms, special education and English Language Learners classrooms, a main office and a nurse's office. The project also includes additional music and art rooms and an expanded cafeteria on the Bennet side to accommodate the added students.

Crosswalks in Bennet's central court were removed and the area was covered with artificial turf to create an all-season playing area. Gates installed on the discontinued portion of School Street will allow access only for school buses.

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