By Kerri Rempp Sioux County Schools PIO
The Sioux County school board selected its winning bidder in the construction of a new elementary school Tuesday but will engage in value engineering with the contractor to eliminate an estimated $1 million in costs to bring it within budget.
Three bidders competed for the contract, with Eric Reichert Insulation of Scottsbluff submitting the lowest bid of $5,625,667.60. Samson Construction of Lincoln and Fuller Construction of Chadron were well out of the running with bids of $6,655,466 and 7,287,000. A construction estimate presented in December 2021 put the cost of the construction at $4.6 million.
The 80-year-old Harrison Elementary School is not ADA compliant. After reviewing a feasibility study, the board decided earlier this year to proceed with constructing a new elementary school. The board also secured financing for the project, locking in a 1.35% interest rate, with plans to pay for the construction by raising the property tax levy by 14 cents for seven years.
Jack Baker of Baker and Associates told the board Tuesday that several things have contributed to the escalating cost of construction since the estimate was presented. Fuel and material prices have been unpredictable and quotes from sub-contractors are not guaranteed. In addition, contractors’ time is at a premium as they are already overbooked.
“We’ve got kind of a log jam of work with not enough people to do the work,” Baker said. “To sum it up it’s a very volatile market right now.”
The bid for the building as designed comes in at $352 per square foot.
“That’s the highest we’ve ever seen for a building this size other than healthcare projects,” said Baker, adding that it’s still lower than the prices for similar projects in Wyoming.
Baker presented the board with several options, ranging from rejecting all bids, rebidding the project or awarding the bid to the lowest bidder and pursuing value engineering to bring the project within budget. While the district was apprised that it could access an additional $3 million in funding, it would impact changes to the levy even more, and the board dismissed that possibility outright.
There are ways to alter the project to save money, Baker said. The two best options for bringing the project into line with the district’s budget is to cut the size of the multi-purpose room, which was planned as a lunchroom, weight room and second gymnasium.
The second is to move the entire building farther to the west of the project site and use an exterior ADA sidewalk to connect the buildings rather than an interior ramp. Both options push back the start date but should maintain a similar end date, Baker said.
Before the contract is signed and any work begins, the district and contractor will negotiate priorities and make adjustments to the design. Eric Reichert was optimistic about the process.
“I think we can get there,” he said, adding that he has already made suggestions to Baker and Associates on places to start.
After lengthy discussion, Superintendent Dr. Brett Gies expressed his views on the matter.
“My job is to make recommendations to the board. I have never stated my opinion. The committee never asked me for my opinion, and I have never shared it with the board because they are the boss,” he said. “I don’t think we need a full gym. I’ve never been in favor of that.”
Instead, he recommended providing enough space in the new building for a lunchroom and a weight room. He also said he prefers the new elementary school remain at the currently selected site with an interior ramp due to the difficulty of navigating an exterior sidewalk with a wheelchair during Sioux County winters.
“That to me makes a lot more common sense,” he said.
Patrons in attendance at the meeting suggested rebidding a steel building or constructing the current project on the site of the existing elementary lot.
A steel building will cost the district more in maintenance year-to-year and won’t have a lifespan of 100 years, which the current project will, said Reichert.
As to relocating the project, Baker said that would trim the budget by only about $100,000, and there are setbacks from the street to contend with at that location.
Another patron suggested using pods for a couple of years and rebidding in a couple of years. Reichert said he does not expect prices to come down, and Baker noted the district would lose its low interest rate if it followed that course of action.
The board also noted that it has been advised that pods are not ADA-compliant because they do not meet the “least restrict environment” definition.
A final suggestion from the audience was to reconsider renovating the existing elementary school.
Board member Pat Andersen reminded the attendees that the feasibility study showed no good way to do so because of the layout of the school.
“I do think we’ve exhausted all the options there,” agreed board member Joleen Falkenburg.
“Everyone realizes we’ve dodged a bullet for 30-some years. We have to do something,” concluded board member Judd Skavdahl.