BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN As the Delano School District looks to move from the design development phase to the construction phase, the school board called a special meeting Tuesday to discuss changes to the scope of the project.
“We’re not over budget, we’re over scope,” Vaughn Dierks of Wold Engineers and Architects said. “We reached too far, and we have to take a look at, ‘What is the scope we’re doing here and does it still align and match not only the referendum scope, but also what the core planning group wanted . . . Our approach as designers, we’re going to tend to take it places that will push your comfort level because we’re always trying to get the best building project. That’s why we do estimates. On bid day, we want a project we can award.”
Bob Prell, of ICS Consulting, said it is not uncommon for projects to be over scope at the design development phase.
“It’s better to push the envelope and get as much value for the money and the funds available rather than us sitting in meetings saying, ‘No, you can’t afford it,’ and then it goes out for bid, and you have $5 million extra and you go, ‘Now, what do I do?’” Prell said. For that reason, designers and project managers push the envelope, he said.
Prell presented options for the district.
“One of which is to look at optional funding,” Prell said. “(Business Manager) Mary Reeder and I have been sitting down and looking at the long-term facility maintenance plan and determining how much money might be available there to do additional work,” Prell said. “In the referendum, there is $2.4 million for deferred maintenance. In the long-term facilities maintenance plan, there’s also money for deferred maintenance. We’re still looking at that and making sure we can use those funds appropriately.”
Bond interest of about $590,000 will also be carried outside of the project budget.
Prell also asked if changes to Tiger Drive should be included in the project.
“If it’s part of this project, should we go through the assessment phase and pay through capital funds or not?” Prell said. “What we’ve agreed to do is put that off and make that final decision at the very end when the bids come in. In the referendum, there was nothing there about Tiger Drive.”
Dierks proposed six cost-cutting changes to the secondary school building.
First, the remodeling of the two newest science classrooms as an alternate, only to be completed if funds become available.
“Probably the best way to think about it is we’re not taking all the science classrooms down to renovate them so they all look identical,” Dierks said. “The two existing ones will look a little different than the other ones.”
Second, the family and consumer sciences (FaCS) room would not be converted into a black box theater.
“We can always write a proposal request after the bids come in, if we have money to do it, and turn it into that at that point,” Dierks said. “We’re going to demo it out, but not put all the new stuff into that space . . . We’re taking FaCS out of that black box area and moving it toward the other FaCS area, and consolidating it into one area.”
The third option involves the location of staff offices, classrooms, and a staff lunch room.
“Instead of converting all the office area for the high school into classrooms and moving all the counselors to the east part of the building and creating a staff lunch room on that west side, we’re going to leave the classrooms where they are, leave a portion of the office as it is, do slight renovations to make it work for the counselors, and maintain the classrooms in the seventh- and eighth-grade areas,” Dierks said.
Fourth, the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) lab renovations would be bid as an alternate.
“The second STEM lab is the one that has lesser renovation to it,” Dierks said. “It’s not as complicated and it doesn’t prevent it from happening in the future. That’s one of the things we’re looking at with this plan, trying to set things up. Even if you don’t do the work now, at some point in the future, it’s organizing the building around how you want it to function.”
Fifth, family locker rooms would be added to the pool area, but not next to the existing locker room area.
Sixth, some spaces in the cafeteria, fitness area, office, and pool area would be redesigned to save money.
In addition to those options, Wold and ICS are looking for ways to save money on the entrance of the secondary school, as well as on mechanical, electrical, and plumbing components in the building.
“We really do think we need to do these items to get us back on budget,” Dierks said.
Early estimates show the changes could collectively save more than $3 million, though Dierks, Prell, and Superintendent Matt Schoen emphasized that the overall cost of the project and any potential savings won’t be finalized until bids are received.
Schoen said he would be meeting with user groups affected by the potential changes.
“If we’re making changes, we don’t want it to be opening day and have them move in and say, ‘This doesn’t look anything like what we talked about,’” Schoen said.
Board member Sarah Baker spoke out about changes to academic areas of the secondary building.
“I’m hesitant when I feel like academics or curricular programs are being impacted and other areas are being less impacted,” Baker said. “I hope that discussion item comes up with teachers. Personally, I want academics to be our focus of what we’re doing and what we’re changing and adding.”
Board member Lisa Seguin, who serves on the Project Oversight Committee for the project, said she felt better about the options after that committee had a similar discussion.
“I feel pretty good that we’re not significantly pulling stuff out that’s going to cause degradation to any of the curriculum, and we’re still fulfilling the requirements that were set at the very beginning of the project when we talked about the scope of the referendum,” Seguin said. “All those core criteria are being met. Right now, we’re just talking about, ‘How can we rein it in across the whole program?’”