By KAITLYN NAPLES
Depending on what Mother Nature brings to the city in the next few weeks, the city is expecting the renovations to the Beals Senior Center to be completed by May 1.
Chairman of the renovations committee, Frank Stawski, said the senior center building is an old one, built in the 1950s, that has had minimal upgrades in the past.
Last week, seniors gathered to listen to a panel of officials involved in the renovations process and ask questions and raise concerns about the work that has been done.
“There have been many significant issues,” over the last 12 months that the renovations have been going on, he said. “That’s going to happen.”
When the initial renovations began, the aging roof was not included in those renovations. In 2011, the work that was going to be done originally was to install a new boiler, upgrades to the building’s heating and cooling system, and plumbing and electrical improvements. The construction was taken on by S. Carpenter Construction, who originally had 15 months to complete the work. Last summer, during renovations, the project received an additional appropriation of $600,000 for a new roof after noticing substantial leaks and damage after a rain storm.
George Wallace, the city’s public facilities and public works fleet manager and project manager for the renovations, said there was a lack of communication among the contractor and the consultant for the project. He said the project began without noticing the roof needed to be replaced, and a substantial amount of renovations had already begun when building officials noticed the leaky roof, causing damage to the work already done.
According to City Councilor Dave Mills, who also sits on the city’s Building Committee, said the damage the leaky roof caused totaled about $50,000, and the commit- tee is currently working on trying to get the insurance company to cover that, before getting city attorneys involved.
“We aren’t making up excuses; we’re here to tell you what has been going on,” Mills told the seniors last week, and added that with the additional appropriations for the roof the whole renovation project ended up coming with about a $5 million price tag. He said the committee is more focused on getting the work done now, rather than pointing fingers. The city has given Carpenter two weeks to finish the roof, and another five weeks to then finish the entire project, bringing it to the beginning of May. Wallace added that this timeline is also depending on whether or not there is substantial rain or snow that comes in the next five weeks.
Terry Barton, a senior center member and member of the city’s Commission on Aging, said former senior center director Peggy Sokol had been telling the city for the last 10 years that the roof needed to be replaced.
Barton, and other seniors, said they didn’t believe the committee didn’t know about the “troubled roof” and are perplexed as to why the project began without checking the roof first.
Wallace said the city knew about the roof, especially after it hired a consultant to do a space needs study of the senior center, and other city buildings. The city was scheduling the roof to be replaced in two years.
Several years ago, $2.2 million was set aside for renovations at the senior center building, but then after a few years had passed, the total project came at a cost of $4.2 million. The city then wanted to decide if spending the $4.2 million was more cost effective, or relocating the senior center to another available building in the city. Wallace said eventually the $4.2 million was appropriated, the project went out to bid and then the Board of Education vacated the wing where West Woods Academy was located, and moved to Bristol Eastern High School.
“The cart was way before the horse,” Wallace said, adding that now the committee is trying to make sure the project gets done. The project is taking a bit longer than expected because of the record snowfalls in the last two years, and other weather that has been hindering the work.
Councilman Eric Carlson said when the council approved the new roof last year, he was “surprised it was overlooked” to begin with.
“We’re trying our best,” he said, “When this is all done it is going to be a good job, and you’re going to be proud of it.”
When the project is completed and the center is ready to be officially opened, Councilman Ken Cockayne said the center will need to market the new renovations to bring back members that may have left because of the renovation issues.
Going forward, Stawski said the committee would keep the seniors updated as the project progressed, and if other issues came up in the next few weeks, it would come back to let the seniors know.
Right now, the seniors aren’t able to use their dining area or kitchen and have been moved to the center’s gym to have meals. The center is also using kitchen equipment that it will eventually have to give back.