Voters will still get what they asked for

Jon Kelly, school board

On April 18, it was reported that the Dolores School District's BEST grant construction project is $2 million off the mark. Here are facts and what the school board and district have already done to meet the expectations of the community for this project.

After the bond was passed, an owner's representative and architect were hired, who met with a committee of stakeholders to develop a preliminary design. These preliminary sketches included more than called for by the original project approved by the BEST board and the voters, such as larger classrooms and additional circulations areas (including a "sky bridge"). This "scope creep" amounts to approximately $260,000.

Some minor issues were discovered by the owner's representative and architect that are typical of any construction project.

These include the discovery of asbestos in the locker room and inflation of materials and labor cost, amounting to around $150,000, which was added to the construction budget. In addition, $300,000 was added to the budget as an "owner's contingency fund." The forgoing totals approximately $710,000 of the $2 million budget "shortfall" reported in the Star.

There were, unfortunately, more serious concerns uncovered by the District's architect and owners representative: The cost per square foot for the locker rooms (which will now require a complete teardown and rebuild), the science/VoAg building, circulation areas and the middle school addition, as well as the cost of the required fire sprinkler system, were significantly underestimated in the reports prepared by architects for the District and BEST board. These account for the remainder of the deficit reported by Star.

To remedy this problem, the school board and the district immediately (1) trimmed $1.2 million from the project, including all of the "scope creep" and proposed extras; (2) has asked the BEST board to tap a $289,000 contingency fund set aside for issues such as asbestos abatement; (3) has dedicated $750,000 of the district's reserves to the project; and (4) has started the process of applying for a supplemental grant.

Taking these actions will allow the $6 million BEST project to be completed in a manner that maintains the integrity of the plans the district presented to the community and still meet the expectations of the voters. A health room, however, will now be constructed as an "add alternate." Healthy reserves remain for the district, even after allocating $750,000 to the project, thanks to good stewardship in years past. Keep in mind that $300,000 is designated as an "owners' contingency fund" and could be returned to reserves when the project is completed. The district will not be asking the voters for additional money to complete the project.

Details on how the construction plans have evolved in recent months (which are now more consistent with those originally presented to the public last year), are available at the district office. Additional information will be presented at the next school board meeting on April 30 at 7 p.m.

Jon Kelly is a Dolores School District Board of Education member and this column is the reflection of his opinion, not that of the board's.