School budget affects construction

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A worker outside Strawberry Park Elementary School gathers chain-link fencing material on Friday afternoon.

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Construction workers move dirt at the site of the new Soda Creek Elementary School in Old Town. Rising construction costs have forced the school district to make cuts in the project and to postpone - or possibly abandon - planned improvements at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

— 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.

Moving forward

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.

Comments

steamboatsconscience 7 years, 4 months ago

Hey Donna How about donating about $270,000 to the project? I think you can spare it. Do it for the kids. They are the ones who are getting hurt by all this. As usual.

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bikegirl 7 years, 4 months ago

I urge people to attend the information sessions at the H.S..Unfortunately,we have no superintendent to help address any questions.

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boatsense 7 years, 4 months ago

The Soda Creek project will continue to suffer under this board that spends money on personal drama instead of children. Investigations and contract buyouts all cost money that could serve the intended purpose of our children - steamboatconscience, keep your eye on the ball. The buyout was at the option of the dysfunctional school board not at Donna Howell's.

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bikegirl 7 years, 4 months ago

Troeger,Kozatch And Rusk's terms expire in November.DeVincentis and Connelly have 2 more years.Think hard about who you vote for.Donna Howell did not create this mess.The board did.To all the Soda Creek families-Please know that your staff will continue be here for your kids.We will get through the construction process with resiliancy and the same high professionalism we have always had.The heart of a school is the staff,students and families.Soda Creek truly is a family and will endure and shine!

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SteamboatJoe 7 years, 4 months ago

Three failed facilitations IN MARCH mean more than a security upgrade at the middle school. Thank your board for having to cut corners where your kids are concerned.

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ColoradoNative 7 years, 4 months ago

Shouldn't we be asking Haselden Construction why they are suddenly off budget by 1.2 M dollars?

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addlip2U 7 years, 4 months ago

If the right contract for the scope of work agreed to was signed, there is no reason for changes in the schedule or budget.

Where is your Project Manager? Is the school board micromanaging him/her too? Where is the contractor standing up to his/her agreement? Or was this done on a hand shake or under the table?

and as to: "Deleting small entrance canopies will save about $38,000."

What a shortcoming decision! In the total cost of the project, this is small change and crucial to the occupants of the building for the next 50? years. We live in a climate that need canopies above the doorways.

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HighlandClover 7 years, 4 months ago

Are we just going to let this get uglier and uglier???

radarrascal--yes, of course they have a virtue program, and yes it is taught, and also yes, it does work. It is really inapproriate for you to question another persons parenting in the way you do, and I am truly offended. There is no reason to name call (are we back in elementary school?).
As for a "true family" SCE has that, you just wouldn't know because your kids are in SPE. Yours is a comment meant to hurt, but I am just curious, is it necessary for SCE and SPE to be pitted against each other? I have friends who work and have worked for SPE, and we, like all friends, don't always see eye to eye, but we enjoy each other. Would you really like to cut yourself off from your next good friend, just because they had children in or worked for SCE?

"I remember when an old board refused a grant from one of the education fund boards that would have immidiately helped kids." What was it? How would it have helped? How long ago was this? Which students would it have helped? Just the SPE students or the whole district?

All of this impacts the students. It will impact both elementary schools, students and staff, more than any of us can anticipate. Good Luck, we are all going to need it!

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sportzmama 7 years, 4 months ago

I can honestly say I saw this very thing coming weeks ago. I just had the feeling that the numbers weren't adding up. Time and time again, this happens and partially because of the way the "system" works between initial budgets and final approvals. What should have happened is that SOMEONE should have requested updated budget figures before anything was approved. I feel bad for the middle school as I believe the improvements were necessary. Please do not "blame" one school or another - the schools didn't cause this situation. I moved here for the tight knit community feeling of Steamboat - I guess I should have read further huh? We should really pull together and try to find solutions now as the deficit is here and it's real, now how do we rectify that situation and make things right for all schools?

Note to EFB and BOE - in the future, let's require project numbers current as of the last 90 days when approving Capital Improvement $$ The contractors may baulk at this, but it can be done.

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id04sp 7 years, 4 months ago

The county spent $15,000,000 to follow through on an unnecessary and unwarranted justice center for the benefit of a very few state employees. We didn't even have to build it with county money, but they went ahead anyway even after winning a case against Judge Doucette's unlawful order that started the whole debacle. (Did they ever get those leaks fixed?)

If the county had not embarked on that frivolous and unnecessary construction project at local expense, rather than at state expense, there would be lots of money for the schools.

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oldschool 7 years, 4 months ago

OK, I've been holding out long enough; Time to add a few observations: 1) For starters, how much are we paying this Owner's Rep, and what are his qualifications? Now that we may only do three projects, not four, will we see a fee reduction on his contract? 2) Didn't the contractor, architect, or Owner's Rep calculate any materials cost increase in their original budget? If not, why not? 3) I understand that the Human Resources Center contains asbestos. It can never be totally removed from a building, especially one that old. That building also isn't code worthy from several aspects; fire safety, egress, size and number of exits, etc. 4) With all of the hoopla about the state school inspections, who is checking on the building's safety? Will the local jurisdiction perform inspections, or the state? Is there currently a Building Permit in place? As a retiree, I have been involved with many school construction projects and I can smell an oncoming disaster. Since we are starting these projects over budget, and off schedule, it is very difficult to get back on track. The Board better get asking the right questions or bring someone in who can get this job done...if it's not too late.

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