School project's cost estimates grow by $400K by David Lias A big bombshell � one with a $400,000 price tag attached � was dropped on the Vermillion School Board earlier this month.
Representatives of DLR Group of Omaha, the architectural firm hired by the Vermillion School Board earlier this year after it decided to proceed with plans to construct improvements to Vermillion High School, told board members at a special meeting in early June that instead of $5.6 million, the total cost of the project could approach $6 million.
It also told the board at that time that instead of being able to let bids in August or September so that construction could begin this fall, bids may not be let until October, pushing back the start of construction.
If School Board President Tom Craig was shell-shocked when he first heard that news earlier this month, he showed little sign of it as he continued discussions of these issues at Monday�s school board meeting.
�I have some concerns that I need to share with you,� Craig told DLR representatives Mark Brim and James Dahlin. �When you give us estimates that are $300,000 to $400,000 over budget, we as a board have a lot of concerns about that.�
Craig reminded the two men that the school board communicated closely with DLR Group because it wanted to present accurate information to the public. A majority of the funding � $3.5 million of the $5.6 million school expansion project � came from a bond election in April. Voters overwhelmingly demonstrated their support for the project in that election.
�We first received the total cost figures from you somewhere around December 1998,� Craig told the DLR representatives. �We got an update from you two weeks before the election, and you stood by those figures. Now you�re saying you could be as much as $400,000 off.
�I�m having a difficult time with that,� Craig added. �We aren�t living in times of great inflation, but $400,000 sure seems like a lot of inflation to me.�
Craig noted that the board clearly made it known to planners that it wanted to begin construction this fall if the school bond issue was approved.
�We felt we were very forthright,� he said. �Now you�re indicating that the project could be delayed by six to eight months. We provided information to the public in good faith, and the public responded by letting us know they were willing to allow construction to begin during the school year.
�You also led us to believe that some of the bids would come in better because the work would be done during the school year (which typically is a less busy time for contractors),� Craig added. �Now it looks like you may be setting our work back to April.�
Craig also noted that the DLR earlier indicated that the high school�s new auditorium would include a stage similar in size to the one in Yankton High School. It now has apparently stated that such a stage would cost the school district an additional $250,000.
�We went to voters in good faith based on what you told us,� Floyd Boschee, school board member, said to Brim and Dahlin. �We got 68 percent of the voters that said yes to the project. What�s the public going to think now? I�m afraid they�re going to say, ?my goodness, these five guys (the school board) don�t know what they�re doing. But if anyone is going to take blame for this, I think you guys are going to have to.�
Late last year, the Vermillion School Board unanimously agreed Monday to pursue the building expansions of Vermillion High School.
The project, approved by voters last April, calls for the renovation and expansion of the high school library and the construction of a new commons, kitchen, auditorium and auxiliary gymnasium with locker room facilities.
The school improvements will, in many ways, be much different than what voters expect. DLR Group, after a closer inspection of the high school building, has changed the plans originally suggested by a local task force.
For example, the new commons� original location was northwest of the new auditorium. Latest plans call for it to be located southwest of the auditorium near a newly designed main entrance to the high school.
The new auxiliary gymnasium is no longer a two-story structure similar in design to the school�s present gymnasium. The most current blueprints show it as a large rectangular-shaped one story structure.
Mayer said it is not uncommon for such changes to be made in school building projects� designs. Many times, the changes can bring about better use of building space, he said, and reduce costs.
The project is being funded by $5.6 million in general obligation bonds and $3.5 million from the issuance of capital outlay certificates.
Brim admitted that the error in the auditorium stage design was a case of misunderstanding on the part of DLR.
�The added cost is not all inflation,� he added. �When we did our more calculated estimate where we look at every line item, there�s contingency in this. Right now, we feel like we�re in the $300,000 (extra) range.�
Craig told Brim that, given DLR�s track record so far with the Vermillion project, it is probably safer to predict that an extra $400,000 is needed.
�You also said last time that your figures were very conservative,� Boschee said to Brim. �Is that fair? If it�s so conservative, why do we find ourselves in a situation where we may have to come up with $400,000 to $500,000 and it�s not there?�
�We know we�re going to have to tighten this down,� Brim said. �We take full responsibility for the $400,000 estimate. We will do all that we can to get the cost down to $5.6 million.�
�The long and short of it is we only have $5.6 million to spend,� Craig said.
Brim said DLR will look for and find areas where cost savings in construction can be realized before the school district advertises for bids for the project.
He added that DLR will work to quickly complete the documents needed for the bid process to proceed.
�We�re going to do our best to get the time shrunk in getting the completed documents,� Brim said. �We do have a good group of architects to get on this job and we do feel we can make up some time.�
It�s possible that those documents could be completed in August, making it possible for the school board to advertise for bids and meet with contractors soon after that time.
�But it will be very, very close,� Brim said.
The board agreed to hold a special meeting July 21 to review DLR�s progress on the project�s design development.