Will Lincoln School extension be ready in September?
by : Jim Hague
Aug 02, 2005 | 740 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, the North Bergen Board of Education was set to send out a letter to the parents of the district's incoming kindergarten students, informing them that kindergarten classes were all going to be held in the new Lincoln School extension.

The long-awaited and much maligned project that has been six years in the making.

But at the last minute, the letter was not sent out.

No one could guarantee whether the work on the extension would be completed in time for the opening bell on Sept. 6.

Yes, the project is still not done. There are yet more obstacles. In the never-ending headache that the Lincoln School project has been since it was conceived more than six years ago, there's yet another migraine.

The electrical work is not finished. The plumbing work is not done. There are still some construction items to be handled.

Officials and contractors on the site differed last week as to whether they thought it would be done in time for September, with one worker saying they'd have to work around the clock if it's to be completed on time.

A headache this big "It has been a headache that simply won't go away," Superintendent of Schools Peter Fischbach said last month at the North Bergen High School graduation. "The entire structure has been a nightmare. It was going to be a major step to help our overcrowding problem. But we can't seem to get it finished."

Fischbach was away last week and could not be reached for comment.

But last week, a pair of workers at the site told the North Bergen Reporter that the project was "about 70 percent done." Neither man would reveal his name for fear of retribution, but they both came up with the same approximation of how complete it is.

An unnamed North Bergen official confirmed that figure.

"That's about what I hear as well," the anonymous North Bergen official said.

So what's the hold up? And if it's 70 percent completed, what will it take to finish the remaining 30 percent? And, can it be done by September, just six weeks before the opening of school?

"We're working towards it," said George Carrington, the chief estimator for Brockwell and Carrington, the Wayne-based contractors who inherited the troubled project last year. "Our plan is to have it open in time for school. Will it be 100 percent completed? No one knows that. We're a little behind schedule, but I think we're still in pretty good shape. There's been a myriad of changes lately."

One of the biggest obstacles has been the electrical accessibility. Like much of the work being done at the site, the electrical work is not completed. Public Service Electric & Gas sent a crew to the site last week.

"We're not doing the electrical work," Carrington said. "Another contractor is doing it. And another contractor is handling the plumbing. It hasn't been easy."

Brockwell and Carrington Contractors, based in Wayne, is in charge of the completion of the three-story, 20-classroom project that had an original price tag of $17.5 million when it was designed in 1999.

Brockwell and Carrington weren't the initial contractors. They inherited the maligned mess when the original contractors, Raimondo Construction of Fort Lee, went bankrupt and simply abandoned the work that they started.

Different companies involved After that, there were two different bonding companies that originally insured Raimondo Construction's work, but they were unwilling to hire a new contractor to complete the job.

Litigation soon followed against Raimondo and the bonding companies. Raimondo was held in default of its original contract, but that really doesn't do much good when Raimondo had already declared bankruptcy and filed for Chapter 11 protection.

The proposed extension was originally agreed upon in 2000, forcing the district to purchase all the neighboring property and demolish homes to prepare for the construction.

However, demolition firms found some old heating oil tanks under the surface, which caused minor contamination problems and further Department of Environmental Protection approvals were necessary before the work could continue.

Then, there were some problems with the initial stages of the construction, with the weather also causing an obstacle.

Finally, when all systems appeared to get back on schedule, Raimondo simply walked away.

"This project should have been completed by September of 2002," Fischbach said in an earlier story. "It's very frustrating that it's not done yet. I think they want to get out as cheap as possible. Having the bonding companies involved meant that they were supposed to complete the project, not have it stalled further. It's been forever already."

Brockwell & Carrington was awarded the contract in July, 2004 and have been working towards completion, using the original design, since they came aboard. They have handled other Board of Education projects, like the extensions at Kennedy and McKinley Schools.

Mainly because Michael Dissatti, the president of the company, is a North Bergen native. His mother and brother still reside in the township.

"Needless to say, I think he wants to have this project done," Carrington said.

Most of the North Bergen school officials were on vacation last week and unavailable for comment.

Attorney Jack Gilman, who represents the Board of Education, said that he spoke with several people involved with the project and they assured that the Lincoln School extension will be ready to take on students on Sept. 6.

"They do expect to have the project done by the opening of school," Gilman said. "We are aware of the obstacles they have encountered. But the contractor is committed to meeting the deadline. He's going to see it through."

Some doubt But one of the workers at the site doubted that Tuesday.

"I can't see how we can get this done by September," the worker said. "I really can't. The electric is all messed up. So is the plumbing. It's going to take a lot of work, around the clock. It should be interesting."

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