Re-4A revamps construction plans

THE REVISED plan for the school district's construction project, after new cost estimates showed that the original design would not be affordable.

Estimated costs for new construction can be a blurry view, and often when the actual prices come into focus, there is a sense of sticker shock.

That is what happened to Dolores school officials when they put on corrective lenses and saw their carefully laid plans for a $6 million expansion and upgrade would cost an extra $2 million.

But last-minute extra funding and a dip into the district's savings account have brought the project partway back to its original configuration, reporte Re-4A Superintendent Scott Cooper.

"It was quite a shock to us when the true costs were a lot more than the former architects estimated, so that was a big bummer," Cooper said. "We figured out a way to bring it very close to what the voters approved."

A new architect, more accurate estimates and a scaled-back plan ensure community members will get the main features of what they voted to pay for, he said.

In November, voters approved a $3.5 million bond to match a $2.6 million grant provided by Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST), an Colorado Department of Education organization that provides funds to rebuild and repair the state's most needy K-12 facilities.

Cooper traveled to Denver with a project representative to request additional funding from the BEST grant board. And after explaining that actual construction costs would be far beyond the estimates, the school was approved for an additional $289,000 in grant funds, or 5 percent of the total original grant.

An additional $750,000 was drawn from the district's saving account, reducing it by 30 percent.

"It is a one-time expenditure from our reserves, and we will slowly build it back up over the next several years," Cooper said, adding that the extra funding will not result in budget cuts. "The district had the foresight to build up reserves over the years despite the recession."

In addition to securing the extra $1 million in funding, the scope of the project also had to be reduced by $1 million to come within the budget.

The main features - new state-of-the-art science classrooms with labs, a new career and technical education facility, upgraded locker rooms, and additional classrooms for the elementary - all will be built.

But there are some differences. A planned two-story math and science building between the middle school and high school will be reduced to a single story. Science classrooms will be rearranged and their size will be reduced from 1,250 square feet to 950 square feet, the standard for schools in the state.

Also, plans for a hallway connecting the elementary school to the cafeteria were modified.

"It'll be more of a covered breezeway," explained Re-4A board member Linnea Vass. "The kids will be protected from the elements, there will be a wall on the south side (for security) but the north side will be open air."

Cooper said the cutbacks will result in the loss of two new classrooms earmarked for the middle school and high school.

"That will make things a little tight, because we need more space for more kids that are always coming in," he said. "So those additional classrooms will need to be done in the future by securing grant funding."

The Dolores campus is at capacity with 784 students, up from 689 students two years ago.

Some of the extra expenses include:

Unforeseen asbestos removal: $40,000.

The locker room remodel expected to cost $75/square foot will require a complete rebuild at $215/square foot. Additional cost: $560,000.

Replacing the science vocational/agricultural building will cost more than expected: $660,484.

The changes alarmed some parents, and the unforeseen cost overruns drew criticism at recent school board meetings.

"It felt a little like a bait and switch," said Keith Moore, a parent of students at the school. "It was not budgeted correctly and it is a shame that we are not getting what we voted to build there."

"It is important to keep the project moving forward, and that is what is happening because (Superintendent) Scott (Cooper) persevered in getting the extra money, so I'm excited, optimistic, it will be a positive impact for the kids," Vass said.