Siuslaw School Board considers upgrade options

Replacement of the high school is just one of the needed improvements

Dec. 16, 2017 — Siuslaw School District Board of Directors (SSD) met for its monthly meeting on Dec. 13.

Directors first took care of the normal work of district oversight, accepting reports and approving changes to language dealing with dress codes and drug testing.

After the district’s housekeeping items were addressed, directors turned their attention to the ongoing assessment of district facilities and the process involved in determining what improvements or replacements the board will decide to ask the public to support.   

The main presentation of the evening was given by Curt Wilson, the district’s project coordinator for Pivot Architecture in Eugene.

Wilson’s presentation was comprehensive and detailed the cost estimates requested by the board for different levels of upgrades to the district’s school buildings.

SSD has held a number of work sessions in recent weeks, at which Pivot design team members and SSD staff incorporated the specific needs of the district into the final recommendations and options presented at this meeting.

The numbers involved take into account many factors that will influence the final cost of repair or replacement.

As they stand, the estimated totals range from $65 to $131 million dollars to complete.

SSD Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak wants the public to know the current state of disrepair of the district’s buildings and the realworld costs that will be associated with completing necessary improvements.

“Right now, we are still at the ‘facilities assessment’ stage of the process,” he said. “There is a balance between being able to handle the upcoming enrollment increases, ensuring that all programs have a home at the high school and that classrooms are designed for the modern learning environment.”

Wilson’s presentation was created with the understanding that the district wanted to have options when it came to deciding what level of upgrades and improvements would be required to meet current seismic safety standards, future technology requirements and energy saving opportunities.

“In all of my years with the district, we have never done a comprehensive review of all facilities at this level of detail before. Now we know where our facilities stand in all aspects — mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural and grounds,” Grzeskowiak said.

The board also asked Pivot to come up with two overarching plans; one of which would include a complete replacement of the most out-of-date structure, the high school, with a new building and one that would incrementally upgrade the high school over a period of years.

The board also requested different levels of repair be considered for the elementary and middle school, as there are structural upgrades that need to be undertaken sooner and some that can be postponed or incorporated into other stages of the overall project.

“The steering committee tried to take a long-term approach and examine all possible projects that had the potential for upgrade or replacement in the near future,” said Grzeskowiak. “Some of the projects are deferred maintenance for projects beyond regular budgets, while others are comprehensive overhauls that will protect the current public investment to extend the lifespan of the elementary and middle schools.”

The numbers cited in the Pivot report are somewhat daunting at first glance, but Grzeskowiak believes that significant tax payer money can be saved if the needed repairs can be done sooner rather than later.

“There are several ways to increase operational energy efficiency to save money and put that back into the classroom for years to come. The biggest savings will come in replacing the HVAC system as part of the high school plan,” he said.

Another major concern for Grzeskowiak is the continually increasing costs associated with large-scale construction projects. Often these increases can amount to a five percent increase per year, which can significantly increase the costs associated with construction.

The steering committee will also be working on prioritizing projects. There are 14 potential projects to consider other than the high school. If all of these projects are taken on now, with the inflation of commercial construction over the years, the total cost would be high.

“But part of the balance we are striving for is providing the public something they can be proud of, that serves the students in the education well and will be a resource in the community for years to come,” Grzeskowiak said.

Another important factor presented by Wilson is the difference between construction costs and project costs.

Generally, construction costs are between 60 to 70 percent of the total cost of a project, with the remaining percent allocated to other parts of the process such as permitting, site testing and pre-construction investigations.

This is important when considering what costs can be contained and which expenses will be incurred regardless of the timing of the renovation

Another important consideration that Wilson highlighted was cost figures based on square foot estimates.

The projected project costs were calculated on a per-square-foot basis.

Estimated costs for school improvements for the elementary school were $414 per square foot, $443 per square foot for the middle school upgrades and $471 per square foot for the high school.

The project steering committee, appointed by the board earlier in the year, will be sifting through the 89-page packet presented by Pivot in order to determine what level of funding the board will be asking the public to support.

According to the report, the price tag associated with the least number of upgrades at all three schools would be approximately $65 million dollars.

This number would not cover the cost of many items the involved stakeholders felt are needed. While most of those are not critical at this time, all will eventually need to be done.

Pivot’s presentation also includes upgrades at the high school that could be undertaken incrementally, over an extended period of time, as opposed to a complete replacement building, constructed all at once.

The highest projections, incorporating all suggested improvements and upgrades, is estimated at nearly $132 million dollars.

Grzeskowiak is aware of the concern this number will engender in taxpayers and is looking for public input while finalizing the path the board will recommend to the community.

“Curt and I will be doing some work over the holidays and then come back to the steering committee in January, before going back to the Board. Much of what we are doing in the design concept is in regard to safety, which realistically can’t be significantly changed by remodeling the current building,” Grzeskowiak said, adding,

“To help inform the process, we will be doing some survey work in the community in January. We have already had some invaluable input from community members and we are looking to reaching out further to clarify project priorities.”

SSD staff were careful to point out that while a majority of the funding required to accomplish the district’s stated goals would come from a bond request, there would also be opportunities for matching grants from federal and state governmental agencies and other sources of funding.

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