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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Construction material, labor shortages causing school project challenges

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/1/21

ELY – Construction timeline changes are starting to creep into the $20 million facilities renovation underway on the Ely school campus. Shortages in both building materials and laborers are …

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Construction material, labor shortages causing school project challenges


ELY – Construction timeline changes are starting to creep into the $20 million facilities renovation underway on the Ely school campus. Shortages in both building materials and laborers are continuing challenges to progress as summer turns to fall.
There is a real chance that the new building will not be fully enclosed by the time winter arrives, prohibiting or at least delaying the continuation of inside work for many months.
In a school board study session last week, construction managers indicated the completion of a new locker room for the Memorial High School building, intended to be ready this school year, will not happen until next summer.
Brandon Ward, of Kraus-Anderson, said the construction bid for one locker room came in at $400,000, including a 10-percent markup for overhead and profit.
“We are hoping that by taking this out of bid package one and putting it in bid package two, we can get the number down to at least $360,000,” he said.
“So, we communicated the tough news that we are not going to have a boys locker room this fall,” Ward continued. “Right now there is not a single electrician out there. Costco, I think, is offering $150 a day to be at their job site. It is just hard to get people right now, and contractors are putting prices on work based on that.”
The original timeline called for completion of the locker room in time for the beginning of the basketball season, which resulted in the added price premium, Ward said.
“The lockers (delivery) are still four months out, so the supply of steel is running against us,” he said.
For the upcoming school year, according to Ward, the boys will use the existing girls locker room. And the girls will use an existing first floor room on a temporary basis that has access to lockers and a girls bathroom nearby. No showers will be available in the temporary girls locker room space.
As reported in the Timberjay last week, the campus heating plant should be ready to fire up by mid-September to prepare for the winter heating season. The 32,000-gallon propane tank was recently moved from the front yard of the school to the southwest corner of the property.
Many locations around the renovation project will need temporary doors because of supply delays.
“We ordered them but they are four or five months out,” Ward said. “For all the materials, the longer we wait to order them the more the price continues to go up. We can come up with the storage space, like in the auditorium and other spaces, and we can lock in our price now for future installation.”
Ward added that temporary lighting will have to be used in many areas of the school.
“A lot of the lights are a long lead item. We can still install the ceiling grid but use temporary lights. We will make sure they are approved by the city inspector,” he said.
As teachers and staff prepared for the start of the school year on Tuesday, Sept. 7, the campus was disrupted by power outages as construction continued.
“The stadium needs power for the football games coming up. That was one of the things we didn’t anticipate. In the middle of the summer we realized that we needed another transformer pad out there,” Ward said. “I talked with the electrical contractor and they don’t anticipate any power outages during the school year. We won’t cut power during the school day. I can’t imagine that we would ever suggest that.”
Project managers anticipate the delivery of the new building pre-cast walls in early October and walls will start going up immediately.
“We won’t let anybody be on site when they are erecting those pre-cast walls,” Ward said. “That is for safety. They pretty much take over the site for two weeks. Once those pre-casts are up, they will work from south to north, the joists will come in, and in a perfect world schedule they will be installed starting in late October.”
In the real world, Ward added, “There is not a single mill in the country that has the steel for decking.”
That is every supplier and every company out there. We can get the building erected but we won’t be able to be fully enclosed for the start of winter.”
Board member Tony Colarich pushed to have a temporary roof installed to allow builders to work in an enclosed space.
“There is no real need for that,” Ward said. “We are going to pretty much just let it snow in that open space until we get the decking. We are still anticipating having the building fully enclosed by Jan. 1. That all depends on when we get the decking.”
He added that the construction contract contains an allowance for snow shoveling.
“We also have temporary heating if we need to warm the soil. All those things have been taken into account,” he said.
The second bid package came in 100 percent over estimates and will be rebid this fall. Work in that package primarily includes renovation to the existing Memorial and Washington buildings, and plans are being discussed to re-scope some of the desired renovations.
The project was originally presented to taxpayers, who approved a $10 million property tax increase referendum, with a completion date by the first day of school in the 2022-23 school year.


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