ELY – An official ground-breaking ceremony was held this week to commemorate the beginning of work on the $20 million school renovation project for ISD 696, but questions swirled in this …
ELY – An official ground-breaking ceremony was held this week to commemorate the beginning of work on the $20 million school renovation project for ISD 696, but questions swirled in this community concerning the rejection of construction bids by the school board and the timeline of the project.
During a tension-filled study session Monday night, Superintendent Erik Erie told board members that following the recent tabulation of the construction bids for the second phase of the project, Kraus-Anderson (KA), the school district’s construction manager, and Architectural Resources Inc. (ARI), the school district’s design firm, recommended that the entire renovation work package be rejected.
Bid tabulation documents indicated that the second phase of the project was estimated to cost more than double what was expected, from about $4 million to more than $8 million.
KA Senior Project Manager Mike Dosan joined the study session via social media. “Bid package two, primarily involving the renovation work in the Washington and Memorial buildings, did not come in where we wanted them to,” he said. “We did not get the bid coverage we were expecting. Out of the 24 bid packages, 12 of them received just one bid. We expected more coverage. We recommend not approving any of the bids in this package.”
Dosan proposed to the school board they re-bid the second phase of the project in October. “We feel that the market would be somewhat better than now, considering all the material cost increases that we have seen, and just the bidding market going into winter when people are looking harder at work and not filled up with workloads right now,” he said.
Dosan also suggested that the school district work with ARI and KA to “refocus the scope,” or look for ways to cut the project to bring it within budget and have it completed by the fall of 2022.
School board member Darren Visser pushed the district to “rethink some things to save money” in case the new bids still come in over budget.
Dosan stressed the importance of the school district refocusing the scope of the project this summer, well before the re-bidding process in October. “We will be starting those meetings with ARI and the school district to focus on that,” he said. “We want to feel good about what we are putting out there to bid in October.”
Anne Oelke, K-5 principal, was assured that the Washington building media center, destined to become the new Early Childhood and Family Education facility, will be renovated and ready to open at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
Dosan noted that a portion of the new ECFE facility was bid in the first construction package that was approved earlier this spring. “Bid package one primarily focused on the demolition and removal of that area, and the remodeling to build it back was in bid package two, but we will demo and rebuild it for this fall,” he said.
“With the rejection of the package-two bids, we will develop a list of the things that have to be done to coincide with what’s going on with the addition and bid package one,” Dosan said. “We would change-order (the ECFE work) into the project this summer to get that done for the fall.”
School board Tom Omerza pushed the construction manager to increase marketing of the ISD 696 school renovation project to get more bids for each of the parts of the phase-two project and to avoid getting just one bid for so many aspects of the project.
“I would say we did a good job of that for bid package two and bid package one,” Dosan said. “I think bidding (for phase two) in May had something to do with it. Some of the contractors perhaps decided they were too full and didn’t want to over-extend themselves. That could have been part of the reason. If we can reorganize the scope and get it out to bid in October, we’ll have the time to get the word out. We have 32 packages under phase one that the contractors are already set to do the work on.”
Dosan struggled to explain why half of the work scopes for the second bid package received just one bid. “There may be partially a distance issue, or if it is that they are all busy. I’m sure there are several factors. Many of the people we called, said they were just booked up for the summer,” he said.
Dosan reported that the demolition work on the campus is on schedule, but admitted that the bid package rejection will result in delays on when renovation work (initially scheduled to commence this summer) will be completed. “We are hoping that reorganizing the scope for October bids will come in at what we agree on and we can continue to get the job done by fall of 2022.”
“If we are over budget overall, what are our options?” Omerza asked.
“Once we re-assess the revised scope for bidding, we would also propose a series of alternates so we can pick and choose from what bids come in. We want to make sure we use the funds to the maximum,” Dosan said. “We take this seriously and we are taking responsibility for this. We are not where we want to be, obviously.”
Oelke asked if aspects of the first construction phase, primarily involving the new building construction between the Memorial and Washington buildings, could be scaled back to make up for the over-bidding in the second phase.
Dosan said nothing is off the table. “We don’t want to decide that on our own so that will be a discussion for us to have,” he said. ARI has done a little work on that already this week.”
Visser stressed looking at even minor things to consider scaling back. “Let’s not overlook the $5,000 and $10,000 things. Those things add up, too.”
Oelke added, “We did sell to the public that our existing buildings are a hundred years old and that we wanted to very much take care of those buildings and not focus solely on the middle (new building), but the whole project.”
Erie also reported that the asbestos abatement process required in the demolition work for the renovation project is now up to more than $200,000.
Book banning request
School board members received a report on the District Advisory Committee that included school curriculum review, specifically the high school curriculum and required reading materials. The committee recommended no changes to the English curriculum.
Earlier this spring, a district parent requested that the school board remove a book from the required reading list for eleventh-grade English students.
The book in question is “I’m Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” by Austin Channing Brown. The 2018 New York Times bestseller is described, “From a leading voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female that exposes how white America’s love affair with ‘diversity’ so often falls short of its ideals.”
In raising his objections, the parent, Chad Davis said, it is a book “filled with hate speech, racial division, anti-white rhetoric and cancel culture all rooted in critical race theory.”
Erie said the Memorial School English Department reviewed the book and the banning request. “Even the professional learning community that is associated with the English Department read the book, too,” he said. “The English Department made their recommendation to Principal Anderson to continue using it to support the standard that it is associated with. Principal Anderson gave her support and told me she supports continuing on (with the standard). I also support that. That was the process we used and will continue to do that.”
Erie said the administration will continue to study Minnesota School Board Association Policy 606 that pertains to textbooks and instructional materials. School board chair Ray Marsnik said he would like to have the MSBA policy in place in ISD 696 for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.