Steamboat Springs Just one month after contractors broke ground on the new Soda Creek Elementary School, district officials are looking at cost-cutting measures to make up a deficit of more than $1.6 million.
Todd Ficken, the Steamboat Springs School District's owner's representative for its four construction projects, said delaying improvements to Steamboat Springs Middle School are among the money-saving moves needed to get back on budget.
"The middle school is still in a holding pattern," Ficken told the School Board on Tuesday during a project budget overview and status update meeting. "I believe it is fair to say that the district staff feels that until we feel comfortable balancing the budget, or finding ways to reduce the deficit, it would put us in harm's way to release the middle school."
The Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board, which administers the city's half-cent sales tax for education, gave $1.25 million to the school district to help fund a 5,000-square-foot middle school addition. The project would expand the school's entrance and move administrative offices for security and safety reasons.
The middle school project is one of four school district construction projects scheduled for the immediate future. The projects, which also include the new Soda Creek facility, improvements to Strawberry Park Elementary School and renovations to the George P. Sauer Human Resources Center, were consolidated under a single bid.
The two elementary school projects and the improvements to the Human Services Center will be funded by a $29.7 million bond issue approved by voters last November.
Ficken told board members the cost of the middle school project has more than doubled - from $1.25 million to $2.6 million - in the two years since it was first budgeted by contractor Haselden Construction.
Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop called the board's decision to possibly postpone or cancel the middle school project "disappointing," and he said he's been told a "million different things" by both the board and Ficken about the future of the project.
"I was stunned to hear it was put on hold again," Bishop said. "A year from now, costs will escalate some more. I don't know what the future of it holds."
Bishop said he agreed on numerous cuts to the project Monday, only to be told by former Superintendent Donna Howell on Tuesday that the improvements won't start until late spring, if at all.
"It's disappointing because the main reason it was going to be built was for security reasons," he said. "We need an office at the front of the building so we can see who's coming in and out of the building. We were all planning for that. I've been telling parents for the past two years this is going to happen."
Board member Jerry Kozatch said he couldn't understand why the Capital Commission, which is one of three commissions of the Fund Board, recommended the project based on two-year-old figures.
"There is a fundamental disconnect between the idea of using figures that are two years old and promoting a capital project based on those kind of numbers," he said.
Ficken issued a notice to proceed in June on the Soda Creek and Human Services Center projects. The Human Services Center is being renovated into a temporary Soda Creek school while the new facility is built. But the budget deficit also meant the renovations to Strawberry Park were put on hold temporarily.
"Until such time that the deficit could be further reduced, it was the opinion of the district's staff (in June) not to release the notice to proceed for Strawberry Park," Ficken said in his report to the board. "Subsequent to value engineering efforts on (July 20), the project team was able to find approximately $640,000 of deductions, reducing the deficit to the point that the district staff felt comfortable in releasing the Strawberry Park project."
In other words, officials found areas to cut costs from the Soda Creek project.
Included in the proposed cuts was substituting stainless steel countertops for laminate countertops at Soda Creek, which saved almost $20,000. Stainless steel handrails at Soda Creek were replaced with painted ones for a savings of almost $33,000.
On the exterior of the new elementary school, Ficken proposed replacing stone veneer with brick, which will save about $19,000. Deleting small entrance canopies will save about $38,000.
The cutbacks at Soda Creek totaled about $289,000, while cutbacks at Strawberry Park will save about $57,000, and savings at the Human Services Center are projected to be $37,000. Delaying the middle school project will free up an additional $276,258.
"I felt there was a consensus that these are items that the district and the architect and that everyone felt that they could easily deduct from the program without sacrificing the quality of the building and the educational mission," Ficken said.
"I do have major concerns about the money and about taking short cuts with the elementary schools," School Board President Denise Connelly said. "I'd rather cut back at the middle school."
Connelly added that she had concerns when the Fund Board originally approved the middle school project last year that the scale of the proposals had grown beyond the school's needs.
"Before we do anything and take it out of mothballs, we need to take a look at it again," she said. Connelly said the board will discuss the middle school project at Monday's board meeting.
Board member John DeVincentis seconded Connelly's position to delay or cut the middle school improvements for the benefit of the elementary schools.
"If we knew we'd have money left over, we could go ahead and say, 'Let's go ahead and do (the middle school project),' but right now the concern is doing the elementary schools," he said.
Camp Soda Creek
The temporary mobile classroom facility under construction in the field adjacent to the Human Services Center is nearing completion. The 2007-08 school year begins in two weeks.
As of Friday, 12 of the 13 mobile classrooms had been delivered to the site, while construction crews are working overtime to renovate the interior of the Human Services Center to house kindergarten classrooms, a media center, music rooms and a nursing office.
The final classroom won't be delivered until mid-September, primarily because half of the modular was destroyed in an accident outside of Craig.
"It blew over on the highway outside of Craig and smashed into a million tiny pieces," Ficken said. "They immediately had to make a new one. At that time, the school district didn't take possession of it, so the school district doesn't have a problem."
Project Engineer Brian Becker said the classroom was to host teacher aides and a music room, which have both been shifted to the Human Services Center until the trailer arrives.
"I'm really excited about how things are coming along," Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris said. "The community has been real supportive, and I appreciate their patience."
She said the district will host two information sessions Wednesday - one at 1 p.m. and the other at 6:30 p.m. - at Steamboat Springs High School. The sessions will address the temporary Soda Creek site, including a possible transportation plan that will address student drop-off, parking and other issues.
Ficken said he turned in a draft of the transportation plan to Jim Weber, the city's director of public works, and is awaiting a response.
"It's something that is still in review," said Ficken, who declined to discuss details of the transportation plan until it's approved.
"I hope by Wednesday's community meeting we are able to say, 'This is the transportation plan and it reflects what the community has requested,'" he said.