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School board faces tough decisions about project

School board faces tough decisions about project

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The Ashland Gazette

ASHLAND – Concerns over delays and budget for the school construction project had the Ashland-Greenwood Board of Education contemplating difficult decisions during a special meeting last week.

On Oct. 28, the school board met to vote on items regarding the construction project. The school is building a PreK-2 and new middle school.

The project is the result of a $59.9 million school bond passed by voters in 2020. The PreK-2 project began first, but work on the middle school will also take place throughout much of the schedule.

Construction equipment moved in to begin dirt work on both sites in spring of this year. Walls started going up at the PreK-2 building within the last two months.

Matt Hausmann with Hausmann Construction, the construction manager for the project, said they hoped to begin work on the middle school structure this Monday.

However, there are issues with access to the site. Recent rains have made it difficult to negotiate the rock roads put in to get to the job sites.

Superintendent Jason Libal told the board that officials from the City of Ashland have asked that the contractors keep heavy construction equipment off of Furnas Street to avoid damage. Furnas Street is rated for a maximum vehicle weight of 10 tons.

There were also safety issues brought up regarding large trucks driving on streets where children must cross.

The original plans use Furnas Street to reach 17th Street, which takes vehicles to the site.

Libal said they asked JEO Consulting Group to put together alternate bid packages for multiple options to gain access to the middle school site.

Mike Hall of JEO discussed the options with the board. One is to build the first stub of Bluejay Way, one of the new roads included in the design, and extend 17th Street. These roads were planned to be built later in the project.

To do so, they would also have to install storm and sanitary sewer lines under these roads.

Another option would be to pave half of Bluejay Way and 17th Street. Hall said the option would install the middle of the road and leave the curb panels for later in the project.

In either case, the bids call for “expedited” work, or work that would be done sooner than normal. This could cost the district about $200,000 more, Hausmann said.

“If you want to wait until spring, that premium cost goes away,” he added.

Avoiding Furnas Street and waiting until spring to begin work on the middle school would push the opening back as much as a semester.

Or they could work through the winter and use Furnas Street, and pay the city for any damages that would occur. Hall estimated the cost to replace the road could be $150,000 to $200,000.

Hausmann said they looked at multiple scenarios, including putting down crushed rock or installing temporary roads. But they did not seem feasible.

“All those options of temporary roads, you’re putting a bunch of money down and tearing it out,” he said. “From a city or a school taxpayer, it’s hard to justify that.”

Hausmann said the best options were to use Furnas Street or to put in a portion of the permanent road to get access to the middle school site.

Libal and the board noted that the estimated cost of expediting the new roads or replacing Furnas are similar, or a “wash.” However, Libal leaned toward the new roads.

“If that wash is to replace the city street, or that wash is to put a road in that we need, as a taxpayer it might be a little bit difficult for me to see the school district replacing the city street,” he said.

The board approved bids from Graham Construction and Engineering to build a portion of Bluejay Way and 17th Street as soon as possible to allow access to the middle school site.

The second bid package was also awarded to Graham Construction and Engineering to complete Bluejay Way and 17th Street in the spring, contingent upon their agreement to hold their bid pricing for 60 days so the school district can conclude its negotiations for the agreement with the city and developers.

After quickly approving a contract with Terracon for soil and concrete testing for the project, the board spent more time discussing the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP).

“Essentially what we’re asking you to do is lock in final pricing on the middle school ahead of receiving final bids,” Hausmann explained.

Hausmann also said that if pricing comes in over the GMP, the contractor will be at risk. If it comes in under, savings will be returned to the district.

The GMP is about $2.4 million higher than the $59.9 million bond proceeds approved by voters plus the $3.5 million estimated to be received from private donations, for a total of $65.85 million.

That includes the PreK-2 and middle school buildings, infrastructure and everything else for the entire project.

“That’s the whole shooting match,” said Hausmann.

The price is higher for a number of reasons, according to Hausmann. Infrastructure will cost about $1 million more than originally thought. Kitchen equipment for the middle school is about $300,000 over the first budget, he added.

“Really, most scopes across the board are 10 to 12% up from when we started budgeting this,” he said.

One of the options is to start cutting things from the design to save money. However, they have already started doing this, said Vanessa Schutte of DLR Group.

Board Member Russ Westerhold reminded the board that when the bond issue passed, they essentially promised that would use what is in the special building fund and donations to possibly reduce the final price.

Westerhold also said he understood that changing the scope of the project now could cause a delay.

Hausmann said suppliers are “jammed up” when it comes to providing materials. He has used his connections to secure certain supplies. But to do so, the contractor had to come up with “shop” drawings to give the supplier dimensions to make certain materials. But if they make changes to the design, that could change the footprint of the building, which would make these materials unusable.

Libal said he and a committee have talked to the potential donors to the performing arts auditorium about raising the $3.5-4 million needed for the performing arts auditorium. They could go back to these people and explain the situation, hoping they will give more than originally planned, he added.

“Doesn’t hurt to ask,” he said.

Board President Dave Nygren tentatively mentioned cutting the performing arts center to reduce the project cost.

“Realistically we could cut that and we’d be in budget,” Nygren said.

Schutte said the performing arts center could be added at a later time.

But Libal wasn’t in favor of the idea.

“Well, we don’t want to do that,” he said.

Delays have already begun on the middle school project, Hausmann said, where they are two months behind. In the GMP, Hausmann said they are committed to getting the classrooms, kitchen, commons area, office area ready for fall semester, but may have to delay turnover of the gym and performing arts auditorium.

But that is contingent upon the school board’s approval of the GMP.

“If we’re given the green light now you can hold school for fall (2023),” he said. “We’re proposing an October (2023) turnover for the gym and in November (2023) for the auditorium.”

Westerhold said it would be difficult to approve the GMP – even a portion of it – without more discussion. He and the other members said the entire school board should be present to make the decision. Two members, Karen Stille and Suzanne Sapp, were not able to attend the Oct. 28 special meeting.

Board Member Eric Beranek said he didn’t feel comfortable voting without knowing where every member of the school board stood on the issues.

“I think this is a discussion for the whole group,” Beranek said.

The board tabled voting on the GMP and scheduled a special meeting for Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

Suzi Nelson is the managing editor of The Ashland Gazette. Reach her via email at suzi.nelson@ashland-gazette.com.

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