For at least the fourth time in six months, the opening of the York Community Auditorium has been pushed back again, this time to Dec. 18 at the earliest. The delay means, among other things, that the popular York High School holiday choral concerts will not take place this month. Chorus and band performances will be part of a grand opening set for Jan. 6.
The building is substantially complete, said Zak Harding, York School Department director of facilities, but a number of tasks still remain. The reason, as has been the case from the beginning, is that the sequencing of work has been off-kilter. This has been due to a slower than expected start and a busy construction industry that has had difficulty accommodating a change in schedule.
“I don’t know if I could give you any one thing. One subcontractor has to wait for the next subcontractor before they can do their thing. You couldn’t hang the stage curtains until the floor was installed. Each has to follow the other,” said Harding. “The floor should have been done before the seats were put in, but they had to happen simultaneously. When the first big items are off, it affects other things.”
Most immediately, when the order for the lighted aisle treads came in, there were fewer than needed for the job. Until they’re in, the aisle carpeting can’t go down, said Harding. The remaining treads are supposed to arrive this week “but if for some reason those items are delayed, we’re at the mercy of getting them from the supplier and manufacturer.” That could affect whether the opening is Dec. 18 or later in the month.
One unanticipated result of the delay is being felt not at the School Department but at Town Hall. The auditorium is being built using tax-exempt bonds, and all bonds whether municipal or school are authorized by Town Hall. Town Manager Steve Burns said the town’s bond counsel told the town it had to perform an “arbitrage evaluation” of the auditorium project “to make sure we’re not trying to make money with the bonds” due to the delay.
He said obviously there’s nothing wrong, but that doesn’t mean that the town doesn’t have to drop everything and jump through hoops when it’s told to. “We were told, ‘You need to do this now.’ We have to come up with a spending schedule, we have to document spending.”
The result is that Finance Director Wendy Anderson had to drop everything and spend 10 days putting together a document. “The (proposed Fiscal Year 2019) budget is going to be late and the audit won’t be done on schedule” as a result, said Burns.
Meanwhile, still to be determined are any additional costs to be borne by general contractor Hutter Construction for the delays. The contract with the School Department contains a provision for an assessment of fines due to delays. Right now, Hutter is covering all costs for the owner’s representative and the clerk of the works, but there haven’t been any fines levied.
Harding said the last contract extension was negotiated in October. Once work is completed, the school department and Hutter will have to sit down again for a final round of negotiations. At that time, said Harding, a final price to be paid to the construction company will be determined. “It won’t be assessed as a fine, it will be assessed on the contract. The money would come off of a contract payment due.”
For quite a while, it was looking as if the auditorium would be completed by a deadline of Nov. 18 — which meant the holiday choral and band concerts could be the premiere performances in the new space. Scheduled for Dec. 11 and 18, the choral concerts have been canceled, said Choral Director Rob Westerberg, as have the band concerts.
At this point, the concerts will be the culminating performances of a planned day-long grand opening on Jan. 6. Building committee vice-chair Holly Sargent said there will be an open house, an opening ceremony and different performers throughout the day, as well.
Harding and building committee chair Mike Whitman said it’s too bad that the YHS seniors will not be able to perform their final holiday concerts. “I hope the impacts aren’t too great, and they will get other opportunities to perform in there before the year is out,” Harding said.
Whitman is a banker who finances construction loans for borrowers, “so I understand this more than others might. I see delays like this all day long. In this environment, it’s the norm. We’re so close to the end, you can taste it. I’d rather see it done right than to rush into something.”
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