Still Waiting:Hill School Construction Issues Have Officials Reluctant to Sign-Off

By Seth Daniel

The Hill School on Park Avenue might be the most striking and well-designed building of the City’s five new schools, but underneath the bricks and glass lies some serious problems that – even after three years – have yet to be resolved.

The Hill School opened its doors in August 2015, but to date Revere Public School officials reported that the City has yet to officially sign-off on the project with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), making it a project that has lingered with boiler problems and other such critical systems almost three years while officials struggled to work with the contractor.

Supt. Dianne Kelly said the lingering issues – which are particularly centered on the air conditioning and boiler systems – should have been resolved long ago. However, battles with the contractor and sub-contractors have left a gap that continues on the brand new school.

“This project should have been closed out two years ago,” said Kelly. “It’s not affecting teaching and learning in the building, but when you can’t close things out, it drains other City resources. Every time our boilers don’t work, it requires a custodian to go and work it out in the middle of the night so that school can begin on time. We’re frustrated to have a brand new building that isn’t working, but we’re making sure the City gets what it paid for before we close anything out.”

She said they likely wouldn’t close out on the project until a year from now, and that that the MSBA has been helpful and understanding about the delays.

Kelly indicated the sign offs on the project wouldn’t happen until there is an event-free winter.

“We won’t feel comfortable closing out with the MSBA until we can say we’ve had a successful winter with these boilers,” she said. “So far, we haven’t had that.”

School Committeeman Fred Sannella said he had grown suspicious that things weren’t going well at the Hill School because bills kept coming for new things on the punch list – which he said is still outstanding as well.

He said he’s aware of problems with the concrete and the trash dumpster and flooding issues, but hadn’t heard of the major problems with the boilers.

“Unfortunately they tried to squeeze too much building on that site,” he said. “They did a great job designing that school. It’s probably the best designed of all five new schools, but there have been a lot of problems. It seems to function well, but there are a lot of issues with the punch list items…We’d like to see it resolved, but not until it is fully completed.”

Kelly said they believe that now they are at a point where everyone, including the contractors and sub-contractors, is on the same page with the repairs. She said it’s been a challenge to bring in so many different entities so long after the fact, but they believe now they have an understanding.

“So many of them were saying, ‘It’s not our problem; it’s their problem,’” she said. “That was frustrating, but now we believe we’re in a good place where we can get it all resolved.”

One of the key problems, according to Kelly, was the fact that the Hill School did not employ Stuart Lesser Architects – a firm used by the schools as a “third set of eyes” on the project in the other four schools. That was cut out of the Hill School to save money. Kelly said the current problems might have been eliminated had the City used Lesser in the same capacity as the other four new schools.

“The City decided not to hire Stuart Lesser for the Hill School, which it did in the other four schools,” she said. “It probably would have cost the City around $200,000 to contract their services, but we would have had a sound building. We wouldn’t be going into year three without a clear building.”

Sannella said he plans to look into the unresolved issues at the next School Committee meeting. He said he believes the Committee should be apprised of just exactly what is happening with the Hill School situation.

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