Concerns rise as days, and Strough timetable, grow shorter

Published Sep 12, 2017 at 4:10pm

Concerns are arising about the pace of the Strough Middle School renovation project, which is supposed to be completed in time for students to resume using the 801 Laurel St. building in September 2018.

Issues were aired by school district officials and Board of Education members during the board’s buildings and grounds committee meeting Monday.

Among concerns is a small addition for a replacement elevator and some expanded rooms that are still awaiting roof construction. School district officials have been aiming to have the roof in place to enclose the building before winter weather arrives, as a key milestone for the project’s progress. The massive $25.4 million renovation got under way about 10 months ago.

The project is “certainly not at the pace we would have thought,” said district Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Paul Rabbia about the roof-related work. “Our experience tells us” the contractor “should have been a little bit further ahead on that activity....But he isn’t.”

The general contractor is J. Priore Construction Co. Inc. of Utica, whose president is Joseph Priore. While there is still “plenty of time to do this job,” said Rabbia, with the “way it’s going” there are concerns whether “we’re not going to make it.” Strough’s seventh- and eighth-graders have been temporarily using other sites, including the former Rome Catholic School under a lease agreement as well as the former Fort Stanwix school.

Board member Lawrence Posselt said that among him and some of the other members, “we’re ready to put him on notice” about the project, regarding Priore. He commented that last September, before project contracts were awarded, district representatives were “pretty confident we could keep him on schedule.” He later asked “what are we really doing” regarding the project, and said “talk is cheap.”

Posselt emphasized the importance to “turn this project in on time” and to “not embarrass” the school district. Rabbia said of Priore, “at this point, you can’t say he’s behind schedule...given how much time is left” to complete it. He suggested steps to “encourage the contractor” so he would “get our support to get this done.” But “based on the...date perspective...we would have thought he’d be further ahead.”

The discussion about the Priore company was then halted by the committee’s chairman, board Vice President Paul Hagerty, who said “we are talking...about contract issues” but “we don’t have the contractor...or a representative...here.” He remarked “this is an executive session issue,” rather than addressing it in public. He added, “it’s just not proper what we’re doing in this forum,” and said questions should be confined to the Strough project’s general progress.

Priore, when asked later Monday about concerns at the meeting, said that based on the project’s overall master schedule, “everything seems to be moving right along....Everything seems to be on target for completion.” He observed “you can always pick out one line item” and ask “should it be further along?” But also, “you can be further ahead in other areas.” Overall, “I think we’re doing quite well, schedule-wise.”

The area involving the addition “is on target to be closed up very soon,” Priore said. He remarked “we’ve contended with some difficult weather” including “very rainy” periods, and also said that with such a large school project, “a lot of things unknown” at the start can “turn up” during the work. But he also pointed out his company has handled “quite a few jobs” in the Rome district without issues in completing them on time.

School board President Paul Fitzpatrick said after the meeting that the Strough project’s pace is “a concern” but “not a panic time.” Putting Priore on notice is a potential step, he said, but emphasized “we’re not there yet.” Chris Crolius, a principal in the March Associates architectural firm used by the school district, told the committee “we’re not in a position where the schedule is lost.” But “there need to be adjustments.”