Electric service bid adds weeks to CAES opening Hopes for a Thanksgiving opening fades

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

When a bolt broke on a water main flange in late August, flooding the Chester-Andover Elementary School boiler room and ruining the the infrastructure necessary to open to students the following week,  officials predicted that the school would be back in service in four to six weeks or approximately Oct 5.

With the Green Mountain Unified School District board’s acceptance of a bid from Watts Up Electric of Ascutney on Wednesday night, early- to mid-December looks closer to the mark.

An empty electrical box in the CAES boiler room awaits installation of distribution panels and power from the street. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The special meeting was held because the underground service cable leading into the school did not pass a test that shows whether the insulation around the wires is in good shape. The failure raises safety issues and the cable has to be replaced.

On Monday night the board approved a contract for $20,335 for M&M Excavating to trench for new conduit to contain the new cable and learned that the school district had solicited four bids – due on Tuesday – from electrical contractors to pull the cable through the conduit from the Green Mountain Power pole.

According to Cheryl Hammond, TRSU Business Manager, only two contractors – HB Energy of Springfield and Watts Up Electric of Ascutney – submitted bids which were transmitted with a letter from  Dufresne Group’s Naomi Johnson. The bids were so different — both in substance and in price – that the board was at a loss to decide until it placed a phone call to Johnson who did not attend the meeting.

Johnson told the board that the bid specifications called for the winning contractor to pull 450 feet of copper cable through the newly installed conduit by the week of Nov. 12, which ends on Nov. 16. HB’s price for the work was $47,880. Watts Up, on the other hand, submitted prices for both copper and aluminum conductors – $29,480 and $15,325 respectively – but gave a finish date of Nov. 30, 2018.

The question of whether to take the low bid versus the earlier completion was important since it appears unlikely that the school’s insurance will cover replacement of the deteriorated cables.

Board members asked about the difference between using aluminum versus copper and Johnson told them that copper would be preferred in this application.

Board member Mike Studin asked Johnson why the insulation test wasn’t done earlier than last week.

“There wasn’t an opportunity to do the test until they started the demolition,” Johnson told the board. “That’s when the conductors were exposed. There was water coming out of the conduit and the electrical engineer said to do the test then.”

Studin also asked why the conduit was not replaced as intended when the water main trench was open. CAES Facilities Manager Jim Spaulding explained that the original bid was for putting the conduit in the same trench as the water pipes but that Green Mountain Power had said there needed to be a 10 foot separation between water and electric. Thus an additional trench would need to be dug at the added cost of $20,000.

Johnson said she did not know why the conduit was cancelled, but surmised that since the work was not required at the time, it could have been a “budgetary thing.” She went on to note that M&M Excavating – who did the water main work – has held its price for additional trenching to add the conduit from September and so the school “is not realizing an extra cost” by having the work done six weeks later.

Johnson reminded the board that when the water line was being installed, there were no issues with the electrical service. And so the 64-year-old electric line was not been tested.

“It sounds like we only did half of Phase 1,” said Studin referring to the installation of pipe and conduit together. “I’m trying to figure out who made that decision.”

“That I don’t know,” said vice chair Joe Fromberger who was conducting the meeting in the absence of board chair Marilyn Mahusky, “The board didn’t.”

It is still unclear how the decision not to install the conduit was made. Superintendent Meg Powden told the board on Monday that she would review meeting minutes and her notes to see. TRSU staff said that Powden was at a training session on Wednesday and could not attend the special meeting.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to award the bid to Watts Up for copper cable at $29,480 and to authorize Spaulding to spend up to $5,000 to install a transfer switch and rent a generator so that one of the new boilers could keep the school from freezing.

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