ASHLAND – As construction continues on Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools’ new facilities, the school district’s Board of Education still has plenty of decisions to make, most recently concerning infrastructure and how to fund the project.
At the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 20, the questions before it involved the future of Highway 66 at its intersection with Bluejay Way, the new street being constructed north of Bills Drive that would provide easy access to the future Pre-K-2 building.
A southbound right turn lane at the intersection is the newest matter at hand, and Mike Hall of JEO Consulting Group presented the school board with multiple options that would be considered in an evaluation.
“We just need to take a comprehensive look at the alternatives that are out there and make sure we provide the safest option based on the constraints that are out there,” Hall said.
Among the possibilities is a turn lane that runs parallel to Highway 66, but sight line constrictions would be a potential downside, Hall said. Also on the table is an offset turn lane with a V-shaped median diverting the turn lane from the southbound lane, but Hall said that design could cause issues depending on its proximity to the Wahoo Creek bridge.
Hall said JEO has discussed the possibility of a roundabout, but it would likely be a major undertaking that could be avoided with the implementation of a turn lane.
There’s also a scenario in which no turn lane would be built, and speed limits coming from north of Ashland would be decreased. But Hall said the Nebraska Department of Transportation has expressed that southbound traffic in the transitional stretch of Highway 66 leading into town is typically moving quickly, and neglecting to build a turn lane could be dangerous.
“(The NDOT) wants to have that mainline traffic be as unencumbered by turns or vehicles entering or exiting as possible,” Hall said.
The infrastructure to be installed ultimately comes down to a decision from NDOT, Hall said. But Superintendent Jason Libal said getting NDOT’s attention on the project has been challenging, even after sending multiple letters.
“It’s been crickets,” he said.
He said NDOT told him they would take a look at the project once building permits were finalized, which he said would conflict with the project’s timeline.
“We need to get the Department of Transportation to acknowledge this concern and kind of tell us one way or the other as to why we need to build what we need to build or why they’re not going to move the speed limit signs,” Libal said.
The evaluation from JEO, as well as a previous traffic study conducted by the City of Ashland, will help the school board build a case to bring before NDOT, Libal said. There’s also anecdotal evidence from Hausmann Construction that details the dangers of turning their heavy-duty vehicles from Highway 66 onto Bluejay Way toward the school construction site.
“We’ve had some near misses happen along that stretch there,” Libal said.
Concerns over who would bear the cost of JEO’s evaluation came up at the meeting, too. Libal said he was under the impression that the district was to pay for the study, which would cost about $25,000 and includes more than $7,000 in “additional services” that have already been performed. Hall said those services included conducting new traffic research; he said the original traffic study’s information was no longer accurate because the locations of the building sites have since changed.
Board member Russ Westerhold asked why the school district ought to pay for services that the district did not expressly request.
Libal said he would prefer not to approach the city to ask them to contribute to the payment.
“I don’t like the idea of reopening a development agreement that’s already signed to try to work this in, but I suppose that’s a possibility,” Libal said.
The board voted to table action on the proposed evaluation until a later date. Hall said JEO hopes to decide on a turn lane design before Feb. 4.
Also in front of the board at the Dec. 20 meeting was a new guaranteed maximum price (GMP) for construction of the future middle school. Hausmann Construction Vice President Matt Schendt said through value engineering, his team was able to reduce an earlier presented GMP from $38.4 million to $37.8 million.
To reach that reduction, Schendt said conversations with Hausmann, DLR Group and Libal have discussed finding less expensive alternatives to up to 60 items involved with the project.
“These range from everything from the type of caulking that’s in the parking lot, to the blend of the brick and the color of the mortar in the masonry to how many HDMI plug-ins are in a typical wall within a classroom,” Schendt said. “Just everything under the sun is considered.”
Despite the cost cutting, Schendt said it won’t have much effect on the structural or aesthetic integrity of the building. Using the new GMP, the total cost of the new school buildings would be approximately $65 million, more than the $59.9 billion bond passed by voters in 2020.
But the school board voted to approve the new GMP, with Westerhold and Libal saying they felt confident that the district would be able to cover the difference in cost without having to increase the levy.
Westerhold pointed to $3.5 million that the district expects to receive in donations, as well as $4 million in the district’s special building fund.
“Even under this scenario, we would be financing an amount of money that is less than what we are currently levying for,” Westerhold said.
He brought up the impact on local taxpayers if the board were to approve the new GMP. If the money to offset the project’s higher price tag is secured, he said the burden on taxpayers would not change.
“If they say, ‘Well, what’s this going to cost me? What’s it going to change about the levy?’ And the answer is nothing, they pretty much say, ‘Get the s*** done,’” Westerhold said.
Board member Eric Beranek was less confident that the district could rely on donations that haven’t yet been made.
“I know some of you guys aren’t worried about it at all, but that bugs me,” Beranek said. “I think we’re gambling.”
Libal said “big donors” have been approached about contributions, which he said has gone well. An online donation effort is set to debut soon, too.
“I feel good that there’s going to be pretty strong grassroots support as well,” Libal said.
Board member Dave Nygren said the project needs to get done regardless, and the board needed to approve the GMP before it could move forward.
“You’ve got to remember, too, both sides of the equation,” Nygren said. “We said we’re building this school. We said it was this price. Neither one of those is possible now. So, to me, we’ve got to get it approved and get it going here.”