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School board selects construction manager

Ames company approved pending bond issue passage

SOLON– Story Construction of Ames has been selected to provide Construction Management services for the Solon school district, if a September bond issue passes.
At a July 14 meeting, members of the Solon school board voted 4-1 to approve Story Construction at an estimated cost of between $1.29 million and $1.5 million. Tim Brown cast the dissenting vote.
Story Construction and Larson Construction Co. Inc. of Independence made presentations to the school board at its June 2 meeting, with discussion following on June 26.
A Construction Manager (CM) would work as an advocate on behalf of the district, coordinating a construction project with the architect and the contractor 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.
Superintendent Sam Miller advocated for the addition of a CM early in the process of the board’s development of the bond issue.
At the June 26 meeting when CM candidates were discussed, the school board members approved a Tuesday, Sept. 9, special election for the district at which voters would consider a $25.5 million bond issue.
The district intends to construct an approximately 75,000 square foot, two-story middle school on the recently-purchased 11 acres on Racine Avenue immediately west of the high school; a 810-seat performing arts center attached to the east side of the high school; and added classroom space for visual arts at the high school (part of the auditorium structure).
In addition, the school system will be seeking a 10-year renewal of its $1.34 per $1,000 assessed valuation Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), set to expire in July 2016.
As approved by the board July 14, Story Construction would only be hired if the bond issue passes.
The CM would come on board as the design phase of the project gets underway. Craig Schwerdtfeger of Struxture Architects of Waterloo indicated at the June 26 meeting his company would typically take up to three months for the design and development phase, during which the specifics of the buildings would be fine-tuned with input from the end users. Following that would be another four to five months of work for the creation of the final drawings, after which the project would be ready for bidders, Schwerdtfeger said.
The ideal time to attract the best bids would be late winter or early spring, but the board has a number of options in that regard as well.
Superintendent Miller noted the board could authorize the architect and/or CM to proceed with design work prior to the vote on the bond issue.
The board also has the flexibility to separate the two building projects instead of tackling both at once.
“We very might not have line of sight to availability of the land for the middle school,” pointed out board member Dean Martin.
When the district purchased the 11 acres of land on Racine Avenue from Don and Yvonne Epley in February, it also agreed to lease the property back to the Epleys and allow them to continue living on the property for up to two years after the sale.
Martin suggested the performing arts center project could be undertaken first. “It’s the smaller of the two projects, it probably takes a little less input than the middle school,” he said.
The design of the auditorium would likely take less than the middle school, Schwerdtfeger stated, since there are fewer end users to consult and less complex spaces to design. If only working on the auditorium, he said, the designs could be ready for bidding by the beginning of the year.
Board President Dick Schwab, however, noted the overall costs to the school system would be lower if both projects are undertaken at once.
“We could pay the Epleys almost any reasonable sum of money in interim housing because the amount we’ll save by having concurrent projects will outweigh anything that we have to do to accommodate the Epleys,” Schwab noted.
The two firms bidding on the construction management services were asked to estimate a range of costs for three scenarios– building both projects at once, building them staggered by six months and building them staggered by 11 months. Both firms returned figures which would make the 27-month project more expensive by as little as $40,000 or as much as $200,000.
“I’m not enthusiastic about spending much money at all prior to the bond issue,” Martin said. “Because if it doesn’t pass, we’re going to have to be rethinking a lot of things. It’s not just keep going back until you get a yes.”
Board members gave a consensus in favor of Story Construction at the end of the June 26 meeting, but both bidders were seen as quality choices and were both highly recommended. Story’s business focuses on construction management, and proposed having two staff members on-site throughout construction.
The added personnel and innovative management techniques led board member Martin to side with Story.
“When contracting for a service as opposed to a physical product, it is often more difficult to get comparison bids,” Martin observed in an email subsequent to the meeting. “Both companies provide a similar service but there are differences to how they provide the service when they were quoting the job.”
“Story appeared to have more expertise in construction management on projects like ours,” Schwab wrote in an email. “This is more like hiring an architect then a roofing contractor. We cannot fully anticipate the services we will contract.”
Board member Tim Brown felt both proposals provided good value, but with different approaches and assumptions.
“I had preferred Larson due to the emphasis they placed on cost containment, which will be important on our projects,” Brown said in an email. “As the lone board member to have supported Larson over Story, I feel compelled to make it clear that although I preferred Larson, I have confidence that Story will also be able to do a good job.”