Democratic mayoral candidate Nancy Rossi has blamed Mayor Ed O’Brien for costing the taxpayers of West Haven more than $9 million because he chose to play politics with the West Haven High School construction project. Her charge came in a press release this week.
“We had a project that was going to cost $124 million with the State of Connecticut reimbursing all but $30 million in 2014,” she said. “The mayor, being himself and wanting complete control on the building committee, stalled the project. He appointed new members to the building committee, and said the project was too expensive and that he wanted to create a better and less expensive high school. We now have a project design which includes 14 less class rooms, and a price tag of $133 million, which is $9 million more than the original cost. This is another example of Mayor O’Brien being in over his head. He can’t balance a budget, and now he has cost the taxpayers another $9 million for a completely unnecessary delay.”
Rossi said the delay and cost hike was acknowledged by representatives of the city’s construction agent.
“At the June 12 City Council meeting, a representative from Gilbane acknowledged that the cost of the project has risen because of the delay. The Gilbane representative told the Council and audience that the cost increase caused by the delay is consistent with the industry average of 4 percent escalation cost for each year the project was delayed. Mayor O’Brien caused the delay by putting the project on hold” Rossi said.
She charged the reasons for the delay were more political than practical.
“The mayor appointed a dozen friends to the building committee, wasted the time and hard work of the former committee members, and the result is a much higher price tag for the taxpayers to pay. We couldn’t afford $124 million two years ago. What makes the mayor think we can afford $133 million now? West Haven cannot continue to operate with such recklessness and incompetence. We need to instill professionalism, and demand accountability. The only way to do that is to act professional, and be account- able! We have to do better.” Rossi concluded.
Mayor O’Brien wasted no time in calling Rossi’s comments “politically motivated” and challenged her narrative.
“The accusations that the project was deliberately stalled for political purposes or costs more simply because of the delay are plainly false. Anyone who makes these accusations is either completely unaware of the details of the project or intentionally at- tempting to mislead the public, he said.
He said the reason the delay was caused was because of faulty plans.
“The original project that Mrs. Rossi is referring to was inferior to the plans we have now in a variety of ways. The increased cost of the new plan is only partially due to the time that has passed; the majority of the new costs are due to much needed upgrades to the project,” he said.
“The original project did not include the full technical education, or “shops” curriculum; the new project includes the full shops curriculum and all of the necessary equipment. Our students and parents want and deserve a full shops program.”
He then listed the other faults in the original plan, and the measures taken to alleviate them.
“The original project planned to have the exterior of the building built out of a styrofoam-type material and stucco; the new project uses brick for the exterior of the building. This makes the building safer and more energy-efficient.
“The original project was not going to remove all of the asbestos from sections of the old building; the new project will ensure all asbestos will be removed from the high school. As the father of two West Haven High School students myself, I was shocked when I learned the original plans did not include full asbestos removal. This project was not moving forward under my watch without this included.”
He acknowledged the current plan has fewer classrooms, but attribute that to “realistic current and future enrollment estimates.” and will be more than sufficient to fit the needs of our city and our students
“It is unfortunate that Mrs. Rossi’s commitment to this city has devolved into blind opposition to progress that is made by anyone other than herself. I hope in the future she can look at the whole picture as opposed to just the details which fit her narrative be- fore sending out uninformed, politically motivated press releases,” he said.