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Board drops Ames firm; new CM hired

Local oversight of construction projects to save thousands

SOLON– It’s a move that could save the school district up to $250,000.
At a special meeting Wednesday, June 29, the members of the Solon Community School District’s Board of Education voted to terminate its contract for construction manager services with Story Construction of Ames.
Instead, the district will move forward with its middle school and auditorium projects utilizing the Iowa City firm McComas-Lacina Construction.
According to Solon Superintendent Davis Eidahl, it’s a change the district has been considering for months.
“We’ve been having conversations probably since December,” Eidahl said.
Eidahl, along with Transportation and Building and Grounds Director Mike Kasparek and school board members Jim Hauer and Rick Jedlicka serve as the district’s facilities team, and they’ve been meeting at least monthly to keep tabs on the middle school and performing arts center projects.
Kasparek and Eidahl also attend the bi-weekly construction meetings with contractors.
Around December, Eidahl said, the facilities team began projecting out the total costs and how close they might be to their respective budget ceilings.
“We were looking at possibly being real close to our end-of-the-project budget, if not over,” Eidahl noted.
In September 2014, 71 percent of district voters approved a $25.5 million school bond issue to finance the construction of a new middle school building, as well as an 810-seat performing arts center addition to the high school. The new middle school, to be located west of the high school across Racine Avenue, will initially host grades five through eight.
Over winter break, Eidahl said, district officials met with Story Construction president Mike Espeset to share their concerns over the budget and began to discuss potential cost savings.
Those conversations continued, he said, and then in May, the district proposed reducing some of Story’s staffing and equipment on site, trading out equipment Story was renting for some which the district already owned.
“Because we’re also looking at future facilities needs, and anything we save on this project, or not overspend, means that much more resource for the projects ahead,” Eidahl said.
The long term plan for the district is to utilize its future share of sales tax proceeds and its Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) to remodel the existing middle school into an intermediate elementary for grades three through five, a move that will create additional capacity for Lakeview Elementary and the middle school (which could become a six through eight junior high).
“Our best option at this point was going to be to transfer supervision to a more local contractor,” Eidahl said.
Story Construction was selected in May of 2014, prior to the bond issue vote, to provide Construction Management services at an estimated cost of between $1.29 million and $1.5 million
A Construction Manager (CM) works as an advocate to coordinate large construction projects with the architect and contractors to provide efficient scheduling and on-site supervision. The position is common with larger projects where the contracting entity does not have existing staff with adequate time or expertise in construction.
Eidahl said the district has enjoyed a productive working relationship with Story and is pleased with their work.
“The decision of the school board is in no way a reflection of how our current team of consultants and contractors is performing, rather a move that provides us greater capacity for future projects,” Eidahl said in an email. “The district has been contemplating future facility needs and carefully planning financial capacity to support them.”
On-site supervision of the two projects will be shifted to Todd Hasuer and Al Morlock of McComas-Lacina, he said, two individuals with strong ties to Solon.
“There are 22 contracts involved in this project; McComas-Lacina does not have any of them,” Eidahl said. “They did have personnel available for us, and that was part of the attraction, too. Not only will this save us a substantial amount of money, but a well-known commodity in our community was going to be involved in the project from this point on.”
District officials met with all of the contractors June 29, and McComas-Lacina staff will be on location next week, he said.
The change is expected to save the district between $200,000-$250,000.
Both projects were originally anticipated to open in the fall of 2016, but a decision was made during construction to focus on the performing arts center. The middle school is expected to be completed by February of 2017 and open to students in the fall of that year.
As of now, Eidahl said, the classroom additions for the performing arts center are expected to be completed for the start of the school year in August, with the auditorium to be ready by Oct. 1.