AUBURN — School officials fear the opening of the new $122 million Edward Little High School this fall may be delayed because some subcontractors are refusing to work without extra money.

Costs for materials have risen sharply since contracts were awarded several years ago, some by as much as 40% to 50%, Auburn school district Business Manager Mark Conrad said.

“We’re talking hyperinflation that was unanticipated at the time the project was bid,” he said.

As of Tuesday, subcontractors have submitted cost increase requests totaling more than $4 million, a sum school officials say Auburn residents cannot afford to cover on their own. If the claims are not resolved soon, the new high school will not be able to open as scheduled this fall.

Construction of the new Edward Little High School, upper right, continues Tuesday at 77 Harris St. in Auburn. The $104.7 million project began in March 2022 and will open next fall. The old school, center, will eventually be demolished and a new multisport complex will be built in the area in the foreground. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In addition to these requests, the school district expects to blow past the $600,000 budgeted to dispose of polychlorinated biphenyls, a hazardous material more commonly known as PCBs, in the old high school on Harris Street. Cost estimates for the PCBs removal now stands at $3.5 million and rising.

That brings the potential cost overrun for the project to at least $7.5 million.


School officials said it was almost impossible to determine the total cost of removing and disposing of the hazardous material at the start of the project.

“We’ve got a building that’s supposed to open in five months, and it’s (crunch) time right now,” Superintendent Cornelia Brown said. “We really have to figure something out … it’s a very real problem that the building is not going to open on time.”

At present, several subcontractors have refused to work without extra money, most of whom are critical for the completion of the school, Conrad said.

One of these contractors is responsible for the sprinkler system, which must be installed in order for the school to open. Others are responsible for installing lockers and drywall, and another for supplying kitchen equipment.

The problem is a tricky one. Subcontractors signed agreements that say they will complete their work at the agreed price, with no provision for providing extra funds. However, while subcontractors generally account for normal inflation into their bids, costs have grown far beyond expectations.

Brown and Conrad said they have met with officials at the state Department of Education to discuss the problem several times since the end of the summer. But thus far, they’ve received little help.


The state has been a great partner with this project, Brown said, but Auburn school officials have exhausted their options and are looking to them to take a leadership role, both to address the subcontractors’ requests and help dispose of the PCBs.

According to Brown, 88% of the construction for the new school is funded by the state. The extra costs should not come from Auburn residents, she said.

“I really know we cannot go to the city, the citizens of Auburn, for any of this, not with the budgets that we are trying to put through,” School Committee Chairperson Karen Mathieu agreed.

The entire project is budgeted at $122 million, which includes $104 million for construction. Of the $122 million, the state is paying about $106 million and local taxpayers are paying about $16 million.

The majority of the PCBs in the old school, which is next to the new one, are concentrated in the gym, which may allow the school to demolish most of the building this summer as planned while postponing the costly disposal. However, doing so would mean the school would need to create a temporary bus loop because it is planned to run where the gym stands.

Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, has agreed to sponsor a bill in the legislature, which would create a fund to help schools dispose of PCBs, according to Brown. She said the problem is one schools face across the state, not just in Auburn.

Brown said the district may know the outcome of the bill by early summer.

Supply chain issues have also contributed to project delays. For months, workers waited on replacement window glass after several sheets were broken during installation. When they finally arrived last week, 80% were broken.

Delays in ordering lighting control panels have also prevented workers from finishing some spaces in the school.

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