This article was originally published in the Patriot-Ledger.
By Shaun Robinson
CANTON — Officials say a $85 million renovation at Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton is over budget and behind schedule, forcing students to start the fall semester on an active construction site.
Renovations at the school started in June 2018 and were meant to modernize many of the school’s core systems. The project was supposed to wrap up this month, but Acting Superintendent Jill Rossetti told The Patriot Ledger in an email the work is now expected to continue into November and could cost about $87 million.
Officials are adamant that students at the public high school — which serves nine towns and teaches a mix of traditional and vocational technical classes, such as culinary arts, metal fabrication and auto work — are not in harms way despite the ongoing construction.
“If it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t send our kids in,” School Committee Chair Tom Polito said
at a recent open house. “These people wouldn’t put their jobs and livelihoods on the line.”
Polito said the Canton building inspector visited the site at the end of August and OK’d it for students to start classes this fall. The project is delayed and over budget because of “unforeseen” issues, he said, citing problems with the school’s kitchen, its air conditioning system and underground pipes that were discovered that weren’t on any plans.
The project has faced additional problems, although its not clear whether the contributed to the delay or increased cost.
In June, the state fined the project’s general contractor, New England Tech Air, $32,500 for failing to pay about 40 of its workers and submit accurate payroll records, according to documents from the attorney general’s office. The company was also ordered to pay about $210,000 in restitution.
School officials say the lack of payment was the fault of the Maine-based contractor, not the school, and that the school has complied with everything it’s been asked to do.
One Boston-based construction union, Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, has also spoken out against the project since it began last June, accusing New England Tech Air of putting Blue Hills students at risk by using lower-skilled, non-union workers on the project. After the union filed a complaint about the project, investigator from the state’s Division of Professional Licensure reviewed the contractor’s payroll records and determined that unlicensed sheet metal workers were on the Blue Hills site.
Several dozen union members stood at the entrance of the school at a freshman parent’s meeting earlier this month with signs saying, “Unsafe workers putting your kids at risk” as cars drove in. Another Local 17 member, Tim Twidwell, said he came out to protest the construction because the workers are doing a poor job.
“As a taxpayer and alumni, it’s unfortunate that students have to go to a school in a situation like this,” Twidwell said. “It’s really not conducive to an appropriate learning environment.”
Parents walking out of the meeting had mixed reactions to the
concerns raised by the union workers outside. Some said they were concerned by the construction, while others said it was inconvenient but inevitable.
William Peterson of Randolph has a son attending Blue Hills this fall and is also an alumnus of the school. He said he could see where safety concerns about the site might come from.
“The front is like, in pieces,” Peterson said, motioning to the building behind him. “With all the construction, it can be a little bit concerning.”
Mike Donovan of Dedham has a daughter attending Blue Hills this fall, and said he thinks disputes between union and non-union workers at job sites is common. He isn’t concerned about the safety of the building, he said.
“That’s part of life, that they have to get these projects done,” Donovan said.
Blue Hills Regional Technical School serves students from Avon, Braintree, Canton, Dedham, Holbrook, Milton, Norwood, Randolph and Westwood.