by nathan oster
It took some creativity to get it done, but Big Horn County School District No. 3 on June 10 officially awarded the contract for the construction of its new middle school to Sletten Construction, which came with a base bid of $4.965 million.
Even though it was by far the lowest of the three submitted, the bid was still the source of great consternation for board members because it came in $790,000 over the engineer’s estimate.
The district’s architect, as well as a third-party architect, had estimated a cost of $4.174 million for the base bid, which did not include any extras such as the installation of a new air conditioning system for the GMS Gym.
Supt. Barry Bryant reminded the board during last week’s meeting that the SFC had appropriated $4.693 million. That total, however, included such things as contingency costs, FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment), an allowance for abatement and other expenses.
Staring the nearly $800,000 gulf, Bryant said the possibility of rebidding the project was discussed internally, as was the idea of redesigning the school by pulling the building away from the current GMS Gym. The problem with rebidding, Bryant said, is that there are no guarantees that it would result in a better price. He said the state is making a big investment in its school buildings and that contractors and subcontractors will be busy in the months to come — and not necessarily looking for more work, which could drive up their bids. There’s also inflation to consider if the project must be rebid and pushed back by a year.
“This isn’t the best time to bid; usually that’s in January,” said Bryant. “But what we’re seeing is, for some trades, there’s more work than tradesman to do it.”
The area where there was the most difference between the architect’s estimate and the low bid was in HVAC and plumbing. The estimate was $913,000; the bid from Sletten came in at $1.357 million, or 49 percent over estimate.
The factors that drove up the cost of the project, Bryant wrote in a memo to board members, included additional fire sprinkling for the GMS Gym, soils condition discovered by geotech survey, the lack of three-phase power on site, the amount of work available to certain subcontractors and the low estimate that was set for the cost of a remodel.
Bryant’s recommendation, which the board ultimately approved, called for a greater investment of school district dollars now as a way of ensuring that the project proceeds on its present course.
Since the new elementary opened, there has been in the general fund a $65,000 “building enhancement” line item. Bryant’s proposal was to use $50,000 of that total for the construction of the new middle school.
Bryant’s plan also calls for the district to earmark $75,000 in each of the next two fiscal years from the major maintenance funding that it receives from the state. Annually the district gets about $400,000 in major maintenance funding.
By doing that, the district could cover about $200,000 of the nearly $800,000 shortfall.
Another $167,000 could be covered, Bryant said, by moving around money that has already been approved for the project, including $100,000 from the owner’s contingency and $67,000 in unallocated funds. Doing so, he noted, draws the contingency down to $175,000.
Bryant’s plan is to approach the SFC later this month for the remaining $471,000 in “unanticipated” funding. “If the stars line up, we can make this work,” Bryant told the board. “By us putting some money in the deal, it makes it more sellable.”
Citing already tight timelines, Bryant said he feared a delay of two to three weeks now could mean “we’re out a whole year.” He added that the idea of the district getting nothing is still a possibility, noting, “We got a one-time small school allowance” to get to this point.
What the higher-than-anticipated bids also mean is that the district won’t have the money to put air conditioning in the GMS Gym, although Bryant and the board agreed that major maintenance dollars could be used down the road to accomplish that.
“We got our middle school in an unconventional way, in that we didn’t follow the model. It was done by a capacity study and by an architect coming in and saying this is what it’s going to cost,” said Bryant. “One of the arguments we’ll make to the commission is that their estimate for a remodel is way low because you have to open it up to things you have no control over — you might find asbestos you weren’t aware of, or that you have to add additional spinkler systems.
“I think this is a good solution; it’s not ideal,” he said. “But if you don’t put some skin in the game, you don’t have a chance. This gives us a 50/50 chance. I think it could go either way.”
Several modifications to the new building have been made already. As now proposed, it would come in around 16,000 square feet. The ceiling of the second level has been lowered by a few inches, stairs and entries have been moved as has the elevator, and the administrative offices have been redesigned.
The board agreed to award the bid to Sletten — although it’s contingent upon the district receiving the $471,000 in funding from the state. It was not a unanimous vote, as Trustee Steve Hoblit voted in the dissent. He expressed concern throughout about the skyrocketing cost of the project.
“I’d like a new middle school too, but they’re just draining us,” he said. “We have no assurances we’ll be getting more money anytime soon…and how can we spend money that we don’t have?”
Chairman Mike Meredith pointed out that the district isn’t asking district taxpayers to pass a bond, and that state money would be used to make up the majority of the shortfall between the budget and the low bid. “We’ve started pushing the old bus down the road and we’re not going to quit,” said Meredith.
Hoblit disagreed. “That’s why our country is in debt,” he said.
In other business discussed at the June 10 meeting:
• The board approved several policies on second reading, including one that moved payday for all school district employees to the 15th of every month, effective July 1. The district has been paying its classified employees on the 10th of the month, its certified employees on the 20th. Bryant said there was some opposition to the proposed change, as two employees stated that it was going to force them to change the automatic payments that they had set up for themselves.
The other three policies given second reading last week — dealing with personnel records and files, military leave and staff complaints and grievances — all came via recommendations from the school district’s attorney.
• Several personnel moves were approved by the board.
Joel Kuper, who teaches science at GHS, was hired to fill the speech coaching position that was created with Ted Menke’s retirement. Kuper has previous experience as a speech coach and judge.
Turning to GMS positions, Kyndra Goton was tapped to be the assistant girls basketball coach while Cody Kalberer got the nod to be the assistant wrestling coach.
Brant Ogg was rehired to serve as an assistant coach for the Greybull-Riverside program.
Klinette Brandon, who grew up in Powell and has taught in several Wyoming school districts, was hired to teach special education at GHS and GMS.
• The board approved an out-of-district request from a family that lives in Basin and wants their five children to attend school in Greybull.
• The school board accepted the resignation of Mike Carlson, who had been serving as the chairman of the Greybull Recreation District’s board of directors. Carlson took a job that prevents him from attending meetings.
• There has been some shuffling of employees in recent weeks after the district was unable to find a solid candidate from outside to replace Kerri Thiel, who had been serving as an interventionist at the elementary school.
When opened up to internal candidates, Kim Curtis, a fifth-grade teacher, expressed interest and was hired. That, in turn, created an opening for a fifth-grade teacher, which was filled with the transfer of Jamie Keisel.
Keisel had been hired earlier this spring to teach language arts at GMS, so there is now an opening for that position. As of the night of the meeting, three candidates had applied.
• The school district ended the school year with 522 students, nine more than it had one year earlier.