BHS south campus project comes in over budget: Board members disagree over design
Board member Tom Haglin said he could no longer support the project's design, as it was too far above the original budget.
Bids came in over budget for the Brainerd High School south campus remodel project, splitting school board members on the decision to move forward with the current designs.
As part of the 2018 bonding referendum, the south campus at BHS will be renovated and set up to house special education and transitional programming. In the past, the building served ninth grade students, who now moved to the high school’s north campus after renovations there.
STARS, or Students Transition and Reach Success, Paul Bunyan Transition Plus and Level IV programs from Lincoln Education Center will all be housed on south campus.
Level IV programs provide a separate school setting for students with significant behavioral or mental health issues. Students receive additional academic, behavioral and mental health programming in this alternate setting. Paul Bunyan Transition Plus and STARS are programs for adult students with disabilities aged 18-21. These students have completed their high school education and are taking the next steps into adulthood.
Sourcewell pitched in a $5.2 million grant for the project, allowing room for more extensive remodels than originally planned. Brainerd is the fourth area school in the last few years to receive funding from Sourcewell for Level IV learning space, joining with Little Falls, Wadena-Deer Creek and Walker.
The school board approved a revised budget Monday of $15,774,823 for the project, with just over $12.7 million in construction costs and a $450,000 contingency. Though bids for the construction portion came in at about $13.4 million, ICS Project Manager Scott Whittemore said consultants are looking at some value engineering items to cut down on those costs and get closer to the $12.7 million figure.
“We’re pretty confident we can get to that amount,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday, Feb. 23.
The approved bids are as follows:
Civil earthwork, utilities and site improvements: Anderson Brothers Construction, $1,050.202.78
General construction: Hy-Tec Construction, $3,993,000.
Mechanical: Thelen Heating & Roofing, $3,494,900.
Electrical: Holden Electric Company, $2,385,000.
Roofing: Thelen Heating & Roofing, $909,000.
Aluminum entrances, windows and glazing: Heartland Glass Company of Waite Park, $358,139.
Fire suppression: Breath-Zenzen Fire Protection of St. Joseph, $161,050.
Floor covering: MCI Inc. of Waite Park, $813,000.
Ceilings and acoustical treatment: St. Cloud Acoustics Inc. of St. Joseph, $269,200.
Board member Kevin Boyles laid out a few reasons why the project is important, saying he wanted the public to understand the decision board members had to wrestle with.
“One is to make sure we secure and make the most of the $5 million+ grant from Sourcewell,” he said. “And the second is because — although when I was running for school board one of the themes I brought up in several discussion forums was that teachers teach kids; buildings don’t teach kids. Facility-wise, I can’t think of a facility that we’re working on in our district that is more critical than this one is.”
The Level IV facility, he said, will provide much-needed services to kids — not only at Brainerd Public Schools but also throughout the region — who have the highest level of needs from a special education standpoint.
“I just want to voice my support and explain a little bit more for the public’s edification on why we’re there,” Boyles said, noting the motion to approve the new project budget included a request for consultants, contractors and district administrators to find as many financial efficiencies as possible.
Board member Ruth Nelson agreed with Boyles’s sentiments and noted many other building projects have come in at lower costs than anticipated, creating more wiggle room in the overall budget for this and other projects that are over budget.
Board Chair Bob Nystrom noted much of the increase was due to material costs, which is something the contractors could not control. And if the board delays bidding the project, costs could go up even more, he said.
“It behooves us to support this and ask administration and the contractors to work in harmony to be able to control costs wherever they can,” Nystrom said.
Board member Tom Haglin, however, expressed opposition to the high costs and to the notion this project requires a higher priority than others in the district.
As someone who works in the manufacturing business, he said material costs only account for a small portion of the budget increase, which started at $8.3 million for construction costs and is now up to over $13 million.
“We designed something that was way out of the league of what I think we should have done,” Haglin said. “... I’m concerned about our ongoing long-term facility maintenance budget. And it’s my understanding that if we can save our money (on construction) that some of that money would have gone into that reserve fund, which I think we desperately need. So I’m incredibly disappointed.”
If the district needs to spend in excess of $15 million to transform the south campus building into a state-of-the-art educational facility, Haglin said he thinks they missed the boat.
“I cannot support this at all as presented,” he said. “I wish we could have gone back to the drawing board and said, ‘We need to scale this down. We need to redesign it.’”
Board member Jana Shogren noted this isn’t the first project that has gone over budget, so the board already has a precedent for approving higher than expected bids, though Haglin mentioned they have never been this far over the original budget.
Haglin voted against seven of the nine bids for a 5-1 vote, and abstained from voting on the two bids from Thelen Heating & Roofing due to conflict of interest.
Scope of work
The project includes breakout rooms at south campus to provide space for staff or representatives from outside service groups to meet with students individually or in small groups.
Every classroom will have alcoves, which are spaces without doors but large enough for students to be separated from visual distractions or reset themselves. They will still be able to hear and perhaps see the instruction still happening.
Administrators for all three programs will share an office suite.
Construction is set to start this spring and expected to wrap up by fall 2022.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .