‘Wasn’t our hope’

Cranbury School rejects overbudget referendum project bids, to go out to bid again

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It is back out to bid for Cranbury School referendum projects following the Board of Education’s rejection of overbudget bids received in mid-September.

The board rejected all bids received in the bid opening of redesigned specifications for referendum projects improving school facilities on Sept. 20.

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“This wasn’t our hope and was not what we thought this would be in December 2021 when this referendum passed, but here we are,” said Jennifer Diszler, Cranbury School chief administrator and principal.

She stressed that the administration and school board will make sure they are fully giving the taxpayers what they voted on.

The lowest base bid out of the nine received by the school board on Sept. 15 was close to $17.3 million and from Imperial Construction & Electric.

The second lowest is from H&S Construction at $17.4 million with the highest bid being $19.7 million from The Bennett Company, Inc.

“The budget for this project after we revised the specs was $14 million on this project with Parette Somjen Architects [PSA],” said David Weidele, school district business administrator. “We did have nine bidders come out. Two lowest bidders were the same lowest two bidders the last time around.”

The difference between the first specifications and redesigned specifications was that it came down $5 million, he added.

“So, we did cut $5 million and did come down in price, but [bids] were still over the $14 million,” Weidele said.

According to Diszler, the redesign is closer to the original square footage of the school.

After rejecting all nine bids, a rebid of current specs for the projects is being advertised once again. The exact rebid of the current redesigned project specifications will be opened on Oct. 11.

“Statutorily, with public purchasing in New Jersey you are allowed after two unsuccessful bids to then negotiate with contractors,” Weidele said.

However, the district’s substantial changes to specifications have reset the process for the school, Weidele said.

“Instead of being able to negotiate with contractors as the current next step that will only be possible if the bids opened in October are overbudget and the school board rejects all bids,” he said.

In negotiations, which would be between the contractor, PSA and the Board of Education, the district is able to reach out to anyone who bid on the project and/or other vendors, Weidele said.

“In between that time, some of the work that has to be done on our part is going to happen from our architects,” Diszler said. “They are going to go back and look at everything and start to do their own cost analysis of the pieces that we might be able to negotiate on.”

The school board will have dialogue and discussions on prioritizing the referendum projects.

During the meeting, Diszler and Weidele noted that the architect firm hired PSA has a set fee and there is no further proposal they would get on the project.

In her letter to the school community on Sept. 22, Diszler wrote that they are at a point in the process where they need to prioritize materials in addition to the projects.

“Our hope is to still break ground this school year…hopefully over the winter break,” she wrote.

“Our plan will be to still begin with the academic commons and main office spaces this school year. Construction on the Performing Arts Center, cafeteria and other spaces would then begin [in] June 2024.”

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