School faces $2 million construction shortage

Design committee's proposal was too expensive

The Dolores School District hasn't even broken ground yet on the BEST grant construction project and they are already getting bad news.

The project which was nearly finished with the design phase, came in at nearly $2 million over budget, Dolores School Board members learned Tuesday night during a special board meeting.

"We suspected over the last couple of months that we might have some budget issues on this," said Jim Ketter, project manager. "The initial estimate raised some flags."

Architects and a design committee have been working off of the initial estimates provided by a Denver-based architecture firm years ago when putting together a master plan.

The BEST grant program granted $2.6 million to the project with the condition that local voters approve a $3.47 million match. In November, local voters overwhelmingly supported the project, which will raise property taxes on a $200,000 home about $6 a month.

Recently, Blythe Group Architecture presented a plan to the school board and community. The plan included 1,200-square-foot science labs, two-story classroom addition, a skywalk to the second story, an enclosed hallway from the elementary school to the lunch area, remodeled locker rooms and a health classroom near the locker rooms.

When budget issues became a concern, Ketter was able to bring in independent estimators and soon learned that they were $2 million over.

After months of design committee meetings and meetings with community members, parents and students, however, the end result had to be changed.

"We immediately looked at ways to try to resolve that," Ketter told the board.

Voters were told that the money would go toward new science classrooms and vocational facilities and that the current, failing science/vocational building would be torn down. Voters were also told the locker rooms would be remodeled and a connection would be built between the elementary school and the commons area, allowing students to safely pass to the cafeteria and the library and computer lab.

Nearly all of that can still be accomplished, but the plan presented earlier this month had to be changed.

"We need to look at drastic measures," Ketter said.

The two story addition was eliminated, the science classroom sizes were decreased to 950 square feet, the health classroom was eliminated and the enclosed connection was eliminated too.

Ketter proposed a covered enclosure for the connection from the elementary school, but that it would not be enclosed completely or heated.

In total, the project presented earlier this month lost about 6,000 square feet.

"But the project still looks like the original master plan," Ketter said.

Voters will still get what they voted for, Kelly said.

But even with all those trims, the project Ketter said, is $800,000 short, $50,000 of which will go toward asbestos removal in the locker rooms, something that, also, was not anticipated and $300,000 of which will be set aside as a contingency.

So the board voted Tuesday night to transfer up to $750,000 out of its reserves to help pay for the estimated overages.

Superintendent Scott Cooper told the board that he is hopeful to get some of the money back for their reserves through the BEST board, which he plans to meet with next week.

"When you have a rare situation like this, such as errors, we need some more funding," Cooper said.

However, Trustee Jon Kelly was doubtful the school district will be reimbursed.

"That is a hard sell," he said, "Saying we need money to pay back money we have."

Ketter explained to the board that there were numerous reasons for the budget gap, including architects not taking into account the unique economy of the southwest, estimating the locker room as a remodel at $75 a square foot instead of a demolition and rebuild, which will cost $215 a square foot.

Principal Sherry Maxwell pointed out that it wasn't the district that made the errors.

"This wasn't an error on any of our parts," Maxwell said.

The board then went into closed session. No action was reported in closed session.

The board also voted Tuesday to cancel the April 26 meeting and move it to April 30 at 7 p.m. to give time for Cooper to meet with the BEST board.