Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2006

District projects to feature slew of options

August 31, 2006

It's been nearly 17 months since the Lansing school district set its budget for a new elementary school and high school auditorium through a $23.6 million voter-approved bond referendum.

Since then, the effects of Hurricane Katrina, inflation and higher fuel prices have increased the cost of construction.

Despite those challenges, school officials say they will deliver what they promised the public during the bond campaign in April 2005.

Work at the sites - on district owned property on West Mary Street and at the high school - will occur simultaneously with an estimated completion date of Dec. 10, 2007, for the elementary school and high school band room, and Jan. 15, 2008, for the high school auditorium.

District officials are expected to announce an official groundbreaking soon.

Dale Bohannon, director of maintenance and capital improvement for the district, said "good bids" and value engineering helped keep the project near budget.

During a special meeting Aug. 22, the Lansing School Board voted to award the construction contract to Topeka-based McPherson Contractors in the amount of $23,114,300. McPherson's original combined bid of $23.15 million was the lowest bid submitted.

McPherson bid on project alternates for the elementary school that included bleachers, suspended volleyball goals, a gymnasium divider curtain, scoreboards, a security system, a facilities management control system and a modified bitumen roofing system. Alternates at the high school auditorium include a security system, a facilities management control system and a modified bitumen roofing system.

Through "value engineering," the district identified options that could be declined, modified or provided in-house to save money. Those specification changes reduced the approved bid.

Bohannon said some of the changes would reduce costs by having district maintenance staff perform the work.

For example, the district will plant grass and trees and perform landscape grading. If provided by the contractor, that option would have cost the district $17,650.

Bohannon said school construction proposals often include specifications taken from other school projects that might not be necessary for every project.

He cited some of the fire upgrades listed in the options as an example.

Sprinkler systems throughout the classrooms and hallways will eliminate the need for those options without compromising safety.

"The State Fire Marshal's Office reviewed it and put its stamp of approval on it," Bohannon said.

Other cost-saving measures were identified as a matter of convenience or aesthetics.

The district will save $9,000 by installing video projection screens with manual pull-down handles rather than electronically operated screens and $18,600 by eliminating the mortar color from the elementary school.

Bohannon said those were examples of ways to save money without changing what voters were promised: eight sections per grade in the elementary school with at least 900 square feet per classroom.

"It doesn't take anything away from the reason we're building it - for education and kids," Bohannon said. "We haven't decreased the size of any classrooms and we haven't taken any classrooms out."

In addition to the rising costs of building materials, the district added a fly gallery to the 900-seat auditorium plans. The fly gallery - a platform from which scenery lines are changed - added more than $400,000 to the project.

"If you take that under consideration, we did an extremely good job bidding this a year and a half after the bond was passed to come in close to budget," Bohannon said.

Board president Shelly Gowdy said the district talked with several people who recommended the addition of the fly gallery.

"Every building is different, but everyone we talked to that didn't have a fly gallery regretted it," Gowdy said.

She said the district consulted with teachers early in the design process to develop two lists: one of needs and one of wants. Administrators developed the final priorities for the designs.

Some of the special requests that were preserved in the elementary school's design include tackable pinwalls, gym bleachers, student display cases, lockers for students in grades three through five and exterior windows in every classroom.

Gowdy said she was pleased the classrooms would have sinks, which would make performing science experiments more convenient.

She said the lack of classroom sinks at Lansing Intermediate School required teachers to carry buckets of water down the halls and back to their classrooms.

Gowdy said that took valuable time away from learning because it reduced the amount of teacher-student contact.

"Little things really can make a difference" Gowdy said. "It's amazing how much time you lose carrying water, for example."

Voters approved $23.6 million in bonds for the projects in April 2005. Bond supporters and board members originally expected the projects to be finished by August 2007.

Gowdy said she realized the process had taken more time than expected, but that the extra time the district took helped ensure that the community was getting "the best, most efficient building" within its budget.

"I would like to thank the community for supporting this project and being patient," Gowdy said. "Dirt is going to be turned very soon."

District officials are waiting on bond and insurance paperwork to be approved so that McPherson Contractors can begin work on the projects.

Bill Sims, vice president of McPherson Contractors, said in an interview last week that he would be willing to start work before a ceremonial groundbreaking if the district approved.

Estimates for the school and auditorium, including miscellaneous expenses, architect and engineering fees and a $500,000 contingency fund total $25,288.300. Costs totaling $1,688,300 in excess of the voter-approved amount will be paid with capital outlay funds and interest from the bonds, district officials said.

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