By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

VALE – Vale school officials have decided to consider a dramatic change in plans for a new middle school – build it on the grounds of the existing school.

The decision came just days after the district’s architects submitted plans to the city of Vale to build the school on land adjacent to the Vale High School.

“Two board members approached me and asked how much it would be to move the school back by the existing middle school,” said Vale Superintendent James Howard. “I did not want to pay for it, but Steele agreed to put something together.”

Steele Associates Architects now will evaluate the feasibility for building on the existing grounds, the Vale School Board learned at its meeting last week. The firm won’t charge the district for the new study.

“The evaluation is not a new option school design,” architect Scott Steele said in an email Monday. “We are evaluating the rough steps and conceptual costs associated with the possible location of the school at that site.”

“We should have the feasibility study within three weeks looking at moving the middle school to the site of the existing middle school,” said Howard. “Steele agreed to complete the study free.”

Voters last fall approved a bond to build the new school, now estimated to cost about $11 million. Because construction costs have gone up, some features planned for the school have been eliminated since then.

Howard said earlier that the district could be out $300,000 if the decision is made to change sites. This is money already paid to Steele to design a building situated behind the high school, according to Howard.

The location adjacent to the high school could run into issues with city and state officials.

The state fire marshal is scheduled to look at the plans for the school next week.

“To build the fire lane into the school that is able to handle fire engines that weigh 80,000 pounds will cost between $350,000-$400,000,” said Vale City Manager Lynn Findley.

In addition to the fire response issues, Findley said the city is facing the expense of a pump station for sewage.

“If they build at the site behind the high school, a pump will be needed at a cost of about $20,000,” Findley said. “This is due to the elevation of the school and that property sits at the lowest part of the town.”

The new school was scheduled to open in January 2019
If the district decides to go back to the existing middle school, students would continue attending the old school while the new school is built in the adjacent lot. A safety fence would be erected between the two.

The same plan would be placed into action during the removal of the old building once students are moved into the new school.

Howard is considering keeping both the gym and choir room of the old building standing.

In another development, Steele Associates has agreed to step down as project manager of the school construction. Steele originally signed a contract for an additional $75,000 to act as a manager under circumstances that raised questions with school officials. The firm has declined to respond to written questions about the matter.

According to district officials, Steele Associates will return $48,000 to the district.

According to Howard, Steele is maintaining the firm has acted in the role of manager and billed the district $27,000, money the district won’t get back.

Howard said the district has said it has no itemized breakdown of what Steele has completed for the $27,000. Steele Associates didn’t respond to a request from the Malheur Enterprise for details of the services provided the district for that management fee.

The district is now considering using the $48,000 to hire a project manager, a person to oversee construction and manage both the architect and contractor.

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