Sutton BOS blast TLT over school project
BY JOSH FARNSWORTH
SUTTON – Selectmen did not mince words during a special meeting Monday night as they clarified their individual and collective anger toward new school building project contractor TLT, calling the company a “culprit” and “disgrace to the state of Massachusetts.”
Board members pointed toward months of missed deadlines and what they said were a number of punch list items still incomplete or finished with “shoddy workmanship.” The meeting was called after selectmen Rick Hersom, David Hall, and Ken Stuart, along with Town Administrator Jim Smith toured the facility last Wednesday.
“When I walked in the front doors, I was appalled,” said Stuart. “We asked this town to contribute a considerable amount of money [to this project.] The cleanliness was disgusting.”
“What was most alarming was the amount of damage. What they have done to this town is criminal in nature,” said Hersom, adding that the town should “make damn sure that company can never do this ever again to another community.”
Hersom said with TLT failing to meet its obligations and “deadline after deadline after deadline,” the town would be best to seek moving forward with a new contractor to perform the work in a timely manner.
During the initial tour of the facility, Stuart said the group noted blown out ceiling tiles, rusted railings, and paint “slopped all over the place” among the immediate and obvious building issues. Sutton TV taped nearly four hours of footage on Saturday to document any damage, poor work or other issues at the site.
A couple of “life safety” issues were reported as well, but those problems, as well some of the other cosmetic issues, have since been taken care of, according to Smith.
Smith said two separate cleaning companies were hired and brought in last weekend in order to get the building prepared for all high school students who had started in the new middle school building on Monday.
Smith said the selectmen voted to pull the performance bond on Sept. 5 and the town is awaiting word from the surety company on what action they can take.
TLT President and CEO Thomas Kostinden and Project Manager Tom Hood were in attendance Monday night and told the board that they had a plan moving forward and would start on a punch list of items to finish up beginning Oct. 1. This would allow the high school students and teachers an opportunity to get adjusted to their new surroundings, he said. He also stated that work would be done during second shifts and possibly on the weekend to minimize interference with the daily business of delivering education.
They said the original punch list they were working from had been “substantially completed with a couple of exceptions,” however it became clear the TLT architectural punch list differed from the punch list the board had. They said they would combine all punch lists into one master list.
Stuart said he was concerned that these issues were not so simple to address.
“Some of these things are not things you can just clean up,” he said. “You need to make sure you do just what needs to get done [to satisfy your list.]”
Bradford Carver, representing the surety on this project, said they retained a consulting engineer and can have them onsite soon to assess what still needs to be done during the project, and discuss this with TLT and the School Building Committee. Carver said making a decision to terminate TLT’s working relationship with Sutton was the town’s decision and still the contractor of record unless the town decides otherwise. He said there is an obligation to the bond to finish with TLT unless the town terminates its relationship with the company.
“We don’t terminate contracts, we finish jobs,” said Carver. He said the three options the town has in this situation are to terminate TLT, allow them to finish, or negotiate a settlement. “The problem is TLT still wants to finish this job.”
Hall asked about payments made to subcontractors, stating he had heard some had not been paid, even though the town had made regular payments to TLT, some of which were earmarked specifically for subcontractors.
An attorney present representing TLT said his client was asking the town for a $900,000 direct payment to subcontractors, and promised to continue working with town counsel and the surety company to move forward.
Selectman John Hebert said he worried about a possible termination further delaying the project, which still has an entire high school phase left to go, but Hersom said given the delay already with the current phase of the project, he warned of the town going down a slippery slope if TLT were allowed to continue working.
Carver urged the board and Smith to consult with town counsel after meeting with the consulting engineer and determine a plan of action. In the meantime, work continues along Boston Road. Stuart urged TLT to “move forward very aggressively” and make significant progress on the punch list “or our answer on Oct. 1 (the next board of selectmen scheduled meeting) will be a very simple answer.”
Superintendent of Schools Ted Friend told the school committee, whose regular meeting followed this emergency board session, that the first day of school was “a great day” with no problems.
He praised the efforts of many to get the building ready and the students for their attitude and patience now housed in a place he called a “gorgeous, gorgeous facility” that has moved Sutton into the 21st century of education. He added that construction would not occur during school hours.
“The construction company is going to have to work around our schedule,” he said. He noted two professional development days (one in October, one in March) will now be school days so the district only has two to make up.
Friend announced the juniors and seniors would start in the new middle school building during a special school committee meeting held Thursday night. The meeting was held to be “as transparent as possible” with the public, said committee chair Nathan Jerome.
Selectmen reiterated support for the building committee despite the project’s delayed status.
At the Sept. 17 Board of Selectmen meeting, Stuart, who has served on the School Building Committee, delivered an impassioned defense of the committee and its chairman Wendy Meade. He urged residents to support the committee. While mistakes had been made, the driving need of the committee has been to do what’s best for the town, something that he said would continue into the future.