Whole lot of hole in councilman's yard: Delle Donna searches for answers from Klein School contractors
David Delle Donna was a proud member of the Guttenberg Board of Education for three years. During his term he was a strong supporter of a plan to build an extension to the township's lone elementary school, the Anna L. Klein School, even if it was set to be built directly next to his home. "I was all for it," Delle Donna said of the plan, which called for building a three-story extension to the existing school at the site of a former embroidery factory on 68th Street. "We needed the room for more classrooms." Delle Donna, elected last November as a councilman in the township, had no complaints initially when the construction was slated to begin in October. Contractors signed an agreement with Delle Donna that the extensive work would take approximately 60 days to complete, but it would entail digging up his entire yard to construct a retaining wall to the new school extension. "I was resigned to the fact that it was going to be an inconvenience for two months," Delle Donna said. "I understood that and was willing to work with that." However, Delle Donna's patience is wearing very thin these days. Six months after the work was scheduled to begin, the construction is far from completed. In fact, the contractors, A.G. Mazzocchi Construction of East Hanover, came into Delle Donna's backyard, removed everything from the yard, dug a 14-foot hole - and have done nothing else. "They've been back once in the last month to remove the standing water in the hole and nothing else," Delle Donna said. "Since then, they've given me one excuse after another as to why the work hasn't been done. I was told it was going to take two to three weeks to do the footing and the framing of the concrete wall. It's been nine weeks now and nothing seems to be getting done." As May approaches, Delle Donna is left with the huge hole and no answers as to when the work will be completed. The initial work was slated to begin in October, according to the terms of the contract that Delle Donna signed with the contractors and the architects, namely Tighe, Doty and Carino of Florham Park. But the construction didn't actually begin until January, when the contractors began to remove the contents of Delle Donna's yard. The terms of the contract stated that the work was to be completed within 60 days. One look at the councilman's yard reveals that the work is nowhere near done. "You have to be kidding me with this now," Delle Donna said. "I want my yard back for the summer. I'm not losing my yard for the summer. I've been waiting two months for them to do something and nothing has been done. I had a concern when they dug the hole that it could cause a danger. That was in February. I've been trying to keep a calm head and not get too crazy, but how much can I take?" Delle Donna said that he has been contacting both the architects and the contractors on a daily basis - and getting no suitable answers. "The contractors say it's the architect's fault and the architect says it's the contractor's fault," Delle Donna said. "I don't care whose fault it is at this point and I don't want to lay blame on anyone. They dug a huge hole and that's it for two months. It's ridiculous." Paul Axelsen, the architect from Tighe, Doty and Carrino, didn't offer much consolation. "All I can tell you is that work is proceeding according to plan," Axelsen said. "We're just the architecture firm. If you want more answers, you have to contact the school board." Contractor Mark Stewart from Mazzaocchi said that the reason for the delay is due to several last-minute changes done to the design. "There have been two design changes in the last 48 hours alone," Stewart said. "The design of the retaining wall has changed seven times since the original was planned. I can't believe what we're finding as we dig, how the initial wall was poured into practically nothing. It was a poor design. "But if Mother Nature doesn't hold us down, I absolutely can see this being done within two weeks," Stewart said. "I promised Mrs. Delle Donna and I can't go back on my word. Most definitely, it will be two weeks." School board Attorney John Schettino knew that positive news was occurring Thursday morning. "My understanding is that they should be done within three weeks," Schettino said. "They all said that they were coming to the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday to make sure that they were not simply placating us. It's been very upsetting to everyone involved." The hole has caused a problem in the neighborhood. Delle Donna has a 9-year-old daughter with no place to play nearby and a tenant who has three small children. "Something serious is going to happen," Delle Donna said. "And I don't want to feel responsible for it. We need to take this hazard away." Water in the hole
The contractors have been at the site once in the past month to remove the standing water in the hole. However, there is water in the hole once again, which causes another concern with the encephalitis scare in the area. Delle Donna said that he doesn't blame the Guttenberg Board of Education. Board President Gabino Hernandez and Vice-President Barbara Criscione have also been trying to find answers as to what's happened, because the delay in building the necessary retaining wall has obviously slowed the construction of the entire project. "The Board has advised the contractors and the architects that they are abiding to the terms of the agreement and that they are subject to fines every day that the work isn't completed," Delle Donna said. "The fines could be as much as $300 a day. I can't stress more that the Board has been really trying to find answers. We all keep getting one excuse after another." "We've notified everyone that they are subject to the fines," Schettino said. "They're exposed to the fines and it's our intention to do so if they don't abide to the agreement. If they offer a legitimate explanation, then there's nothing we can do." Delle Donna didn't know which way to turn. Because his agreement was signed with the Board of Education, he has been hesitant to turn to any legal counsel regarding the matter. But he may have no other choice and it could be a political nightmare. "I really don't want it to get to that," Delle Donna said. "I have no intention of blaming the school board. People tell me that I should have already filed a suit, because they're all not abiding by the terms of the agreement. But where is that going to get me? I just want my yard back for the summer. I don't think that's too much to ask." "I don't blame him for being angry," Schettino said. "I would be as well." "I understand his frustration," Stewart said. "Believe me, this will be settled within the next two weeks."