School reworks project

Industrial Arts goes down, new building going up, and budget overrun forces new look at renovation plans for existing spaces

by Tom Coombe
In some ways, it’s back to the drawing board for a $20 million renovation project on the Ely school campus.
While demolition of the Industrial Arts Building began last week and nearly $12 million in construction bids have already been awarded, bids for a second phase are roughly $4.5 million over budget and will prompt some “dialing back” of the project, school bard members heard Monday night.
The board took no action this week and will meet with administrators at a Tuesday study session to gather more input, but barring an unanticipated source of new revenue, it appears that many of the renovations planned for the Washington and Memorial buildings will have to be reduced or revamped in order to meet the project budget.
The board has formally rejected bids that came in last month at approximately $8.8 million, well over the engineers’ estimates of $4.3 million.
Now, they’ll wait as architects and contractors come up with a new plan.
“As of right now, there are no decisions for the board to make until (architects and contractors) get together and put a list together,” said Mike Dosan, senior project manager for general contractor Kraus-Anderson Construction. “The number one goal is to creat a set of drawings that represent what the review and comment document said back from day one and make sure we’re managing those expectations and drawings properly.”
The goal, according to Dosan, is to rebid the second bid package in the fall with the goal of completing renovations next summer.
Much of that work was planned for this year, and the delays have thrown part of the project into disarray - creating alarm among administrators and school staff.
Superintendent Erik Erie said “we don’t have all the answers yet,” to questions related to where some school classes will be located next fall.
High school principal Megan Anderson said “there are 84 days until school starts,” and that “we have 68 kids in high school band, 68 kids in middle school band.”
Scott Sosalla, president of Architectural Resources, acknowledged the dilemma and said there remain other unanswered questions as well.
“We know we have to address where the boys locker room is going to be reconfigured and relocated or temporarily relocated to handle next year,” said Sosalla.
The area where the boys locker room is located will be the new home for the district’s boiler system.
The unexpected “May surprise” for school officials, in the form of the second bid package that came in 100 percent over budget, has led to not one, but two major issues on campus.
Not only will most renovations planned for the Washington and Memorial buildings be put off to 2022, the budget shortfall will prompt architects, contractor and the district to revisit those projects and determine what will fit into the remaining budget.
“We only have so much money in the bucket, and unless we find more money in the bucket we have to work backward,” said Sosalla.
It remains unclear if any portion of what was authorized in the initial round of bids, which largely encompassed the new structure that will connect the two buildings, could be reduced to allow for more renovations to take place.
School board member Darren Visser, however, asked that all avenues of savings be explored.
“We’ve got to do everything we can,” said Visser. “We’ve got to give our community in the end a project they’re expecting to get. We need to make sure we maintain a positive relationship with the community so down the line if we may need another referendum, they feel good about the one they passed.”
Voter approval, in the form of a $10 million bond referendum passed last August, is a key funding component of the project.
At the start of the meeting, Sosalla hearkened back to the start of the project and the award of a $495,000 school safety grant to help connect the buildings.
That evolved over more than two years to include plans for more than $20 million in new construction and renovations, aided by community surveys and discussions with funding agencies including the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, which pumped $7 million into the project.
A building that would connect the existing facilities and improve security was a high priority, Sosalla told the board. So too were addressing the district’s gymnasium and industrial education needs, which are also part of the new structure.
Tight timelines may have also played a role in the district’s dilemma.
Sosalla said there was not enough time from approval of the referendum last August to bid the entire project in March, and that his staff worked entirely on Ely’s project over a two-month timeframe.
And while the first round of bids in March came within budget, conditions changed since then with supply costs rising considerably.
The second phase also included more amenities than initially drafted.
“We got to that second phase of designing and everybody dreams and wants more,” said Sosalla. “We knew we were going to do a fitness center and locker r oom area, but what started as infilling the pool ended as gutting the whole thing. We knew we had to refresh the bathrooms but the next thing you know it’s tile and everything.”
Sosalla said “the smart thing done by the district was getting the first bid package out there.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic fading, material costs are rising and a labor shortage is spiking, further exacerbating the difficulties.
“We would have struggled to get the interior work d one anyway because of delays in materials,” said Sosalla, who cited a 22-week delay in getting doors.
Sosalla, responding to a question by school board member Tom Omerza, said he doubted prices would return to normal by the fall.
He added “my gut tells me we’d be 30 or 40 percent over any how rather than 100,” even without the delays and considering what was sought by the district in the second bid package.
Some of the work approved in the first bid package is also interconnected with components that were part of the second round of bids, including development of an early childhood education area in the Washington building. That work will continue and Dosan said “our goal is to get ECFE done for the fall.”
The contractors also will go back into the Memorial and plan to ensure that there are areas available so classes are not displaced for the 2021-22 school year.