High costs force trims to new school

By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

VALE – The Vale School District has agreed to pay the architects for a new middle school an extra $75,000 to oversee the construction and supervise their own work, district officials disclosed last week.

District officials also said that the district has so far spent $300,000 on architects but there is not yet a rendering of the new building. Architects have produced a floor plan and site plan.

Questions about the progress of the new school come 10 months after voters approved an $8 million bond. The extra property taxes pay for the new middle school and repairs to other schools across the district.

The district told voters last fall the new middle school would cost about $10 million. The latest cost estimate provided to the Malheur Enterprise showed the new school would cost $11.6 million. And that was after $1.5 million was cut from original plans, according to architect’s last “scope reduction” report.

James Howard, Vale’s incoming interim superintendent, told the Malheur Enterprise about additional fee for Steel Associates Architects of Bend. He said under the contract, the firm supervises itself and only requires the firm to be on site two days a month once construction starts up.

The firm listed its base fee at $538,800 in a spreadsheet presented to district officials last February. The document also listed the $75,000 fee for “project management” separately as “extra services.”

The firm told school officials earlier this month that they are charging the district about half the rate normally imposed for such work, but Howard said he is questioning the arrangement.

Scott Steele, owner of the firm, on Monday declined comment on the contract or his firm’s work for the district.

Because of construction issues, Howard has been in Vale the past three weeks – well before his official start date of next Monday.

A veteran in seven districts during the building of new schools, Howard has been busy meeting with architects, construction managers and city officials to determine where the district stands on getting plans.

He said a recent meeting with architects and construction managers revealed differing opinions what the district can expect for school buildings out of the $8 million in bond funds and a matching $4 million from the state.

While the architects are saying plans must be scaled down to stay in budget, Howard believes a careful analysis of costs can add back rooms now planned for the chopping block.

Discussions have centered on eliminating the wrestling room, special needs room and bleachers on the north end of the gymnasium.

Howard also said that after looking at the middle school plans, he questions locating it on the grounds adjacent to Vale High School. He said he wouldn’t have put the new school there.

At this stage of the project, changing plans is not an option, according to Howard.

“It would cost us an additional $300,000 to call for new plans at another site like the existing middle school site,” Howard said. “The cost is just so significant, we can’t change at this juncture.”

The district’s building committee, which includes citizens, is scheduled to meet again Thursday, Oct. 19, with Howard, architects and others involved in the middle school project. They will get a report on the latest cost estimates.

Howard said he is pushing to go out for subcontractor bids in January or February of 2018. Ground breaking is scheduled for March and the new school would open in January 2019.

Howard said he isn’t willing give up rooms despite cost increases in the construction trade recently.

“I am not willing to concede the wrestling room or the special education room,” he said. “The north bleachers in the new gym may have to go, but I am fighting for those to stay in also.”

Howard said one source of money could be in the $460,500 in administrative fees the district has agreed to pay Engineered Construction Inc. of Meridian, Idaho. He said some of that could be returned to the district to use for restoring some features.

Howard also is considering the $75,000 owed to the architectural firm as a possible source to cover costs.

“I think the architect needs to sharpen his pencils on the plans,” Howard said.

Problems remain with the city of Vale as well, he said.

Unresolved are plans for the flow of traffic into the new school, access for fire trucks and adequate turn around for school busses. An expectation by school officials that an adjoining landowner would allow the district to use space to turn around vehicles has fallen through. Exiting out the backside of the property onto U.S. 26-20 has been vetoed by the Oregon Transportation Department.

Sewage also is an issue.

According to city officials, the district plans on placing the school on a piece of ground sitting on the lowest point in the city. A pumping station would be needed.

Have a news tip? Contact reporter John L. Braese at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.