Legacy Construction Management, a Wall Township-based company that last year managed more than $100 million in construction, will oversee the $187.7 million, six-year project to upgrade and repair Montclair public schools, a role that school district leaders have described as essential to the success of the project. 

The Montclair Board of Education unanimously approved a contract with Legacy for $3,101,779 at its Feb. 1 meeting. The decision was a result of input from the board’s facilities committee, district administration and Parette Somjen Architects, the district’s architect. 

But the approval did not come without reservations, as one board member called the company’s winning bid “wildly out of scope with the other bids.” The district received four bids for the work, from Legacy, Colliers Project Leaders, Epic Management Inc. and Gilbane Building Co. 

The bids from the other three firms have not yet been disclosed to the public. David Cantor, the district's executive director of communications and community engagement, said he would provide Montclair Local with the three other firms’ bids this week.

But Legacy’s bid was much lower than those of its competitors, facilities committee chair Eric Scherzer said at the Feb. 1 meeting. 

“We questioned them extensively on it because their bid is much lower,” Scherzer said. 

Legacy assured the committee that the bid was sufficient for its work, and district administrators assured the committee that they did their due diligence in researching the firm, he said. 

The firm will work with the district architect and the district to map out work at all 11 of the district’s schools, Montclair Community Pre-K, Woodman Field and the administration building. Legacy will plan when and where the work will be done, how long materials will take to arrive and the selection of contractors. The firm will also report to the board’s facilities committee, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds and the public on progress of the projects. 

After reviewing the four bids, Parette Somjen Architects and Christina Hunt, the district’s business administrator and board secretary, gave weighted scores to each of the proposals, out of a maximum score of 100, Cantor said. Legacy received a 95, Epic received a 75, Colliers received a 35 and Gilbane a 25. Legacy and Epic were invited for interviews, and the district conducted background and reference checks on the two firms. Based on the reference checks, the district continued forward with Legacy.

Hunt conducted site visits at two of Legacy’s ongoing projects in Bergen County, Scherzer said. Legacy received “very high ratings” on the projects, he said. 

But board member Kathryn Weller-Demming was skeptical of the low bid. 

“In my experience when you see a bid that is so wildly out of scope with the other bids, especially to be so dramatically less, you're setting yourself up for a lot of change orders in the future,” Weller-Demming said. “I'm wary of that.”

In response, Ponds and board President Allison Silverstein said that district administrators and the facilities committee had asked Legacy about just that thing, though they did not provide specific details of the response they got. The report from the committee’s Jan. 31 meeting with Legacy has not yet been posted to the district website.

“We are a board of committees, and we have to trust that the committees have done their work,” Silverstein said.

The facilities committee met with Legacy representatives in January to discuss the company’s experience, Scherzer said. The other members of the committee are Yvonne W. Bouknight, Brian Fleischer and Monk Inyang.

Legacy has completed over 300 projects in 30 school districts, managing over $100 million in construction during 2022 — more than the district will be using in any one year of the project — Scherzer said. The firm has also previously worked with Parette Somjen Architects.

“They are familiar with Montclair,” he said. 

Legacy has completed projects in neighboring districts, including a ventilation project in Verona that is similar to planned work in Montclair, he said. The company also has been working on an auditorium redesign, another project similar to one planned in the district.

Founded in 2004, Legacy employs 11 to 50 people, according to the company’s LinkedIn profile. The firm manages projects from "project conception to owner occupancy," according to the company's website. The company did not respond to a voicemail left Tuesday afternoon.

The company representatives made clear that they understood the district's main priorities, Scherzer said. 

“They pointed out that a major challenge of our work is that the schools must remain open,” he said. “That from the beginning, they have to make special efforts to make sure that our students and staff are protected from all exposure to ongoing dust and other particles from construction.”

One of Legacy’s main tasks will be mapping out the timeline for the projects planned in the district, with priority given to any projects that involve safety. That work has already begun, Scherzer said. The firm drafted a preliminary schedule and is ready to start work immediately, he said. 

However, at the Feb. 1 board meeting, he said that Legacy had alerted the district to shipping delays that may affect scheduling. 

Electrical equipment, such as switchgears and panels, will take a minimum of 52 weeks to arrive after being ordered, Scherzer said. Rooftop units are taking up to 30 weeks, and ventilators are taking up to 20 weeks. 

“It’s going to be a problem that we're gonna have to deal with, and I just want to talk about those things now,” he said. “These are things that we don't have any control over.”

At the height of the project, Legacy plans to have four or five project managers helping the district, Scherzer said. As the project begins, there will be just one manager, he said. 

The managers will be essential to making sure construction runs smoothly, but also to informing the public of project progress. 

“We stressed transparency, and they seem to be onboard,” he said. 

District administrators worked with an advisory committee to select a firm. The group is made up of community members with expertise in the fields of construction and large-scale project planning — Scott Frank, Charles Griffith, Steven Plofker and David Placek. 

The panel did not directly evaluate the firms, but advised the committee on what questions to ask, what personnel to request a meeting with, and how to conduct site visits. 

Correction: A previous version of this story stated only Parette Somjen Architects reviewed the construction management bids and that the facilities committee worked with the advisory committee.