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School Board intends to compress design projects

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The Oelwein School Board heard from its construction manager on Monday that remodeling Wings Park Elementary and Oelwein High School could cost anywhere from $11.9 million to $13.3 million with all the alternate options included.

“The question is about value, what’s a better deal for our buck,” Superintendent Josh Ehn said after the design and management professionals left, to open discussion. “Can we become more efficient? The next phase, the next two months, is how do we get the most value out of this design and what are the true costs.”

Director Bob Bouska asked where this puts the district to spend $13.5 million.

Ehn said this does nothing to taxpayers as the district would use statewide penny sales tax or Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) dollars to pay for the project.

Board members wanted to get back to an initial figure of $11 million.

Director Bob Kalb asked about the possibility of reducing the media center space and using that space for classrooms to get closer to the district’s initial figure of $11 million and throw in the alternatives.

Ehn didn’t think it was outside the box to ask about compressing the space with the project.

Bouska stated he didn’t want it to become a noticeable “cutting of corners” but agreed with Kalb that being stretched is not prudent financially.

Ehn discussed the possibility of looping Piper Sandler back into the conversation about bond payment impact of these designs.

Director Dana Bostian asked if the board approved the design and scope, whether Ehn could go back to the design team to discuss options to get closer to $11 million and discuss the bonding with Piper Sandler, as Ehn offered.

Ehn said the board could approve the design or approve the design with budget constraints.

Bostian moved to approve the design and scope with the budget in mind. The motion carried unanimously, on a 7-0 vote.

THE BREAKDOWN

Wings Park Elementary renovations and additions come to $8.7 million, “for a total gut and renovation of the existing space,” said Pete Perez with construction management firm Boyd Jones. “For the addition that you saw to the east, and some of the improvements that the site will require, we do have a couple other line items.”

High school work comes to $1.5 million, which includes windows and doors, ADA restrooms, secure entry and reception area and fire alarm; a sprinkler was not required. So far that comes to $10.2 million. Other itemized project costs including design add $1.7 million for a bottom line of over $11.9 million. Bid alternates not included in the price are at the high school — science classrooms south of the corridor, ($670,000), a special needs area north of the corridor ($285,000) totaling $955,000 — and at Wings Park, skylights ($118,000) and a new playground equipment allowance ($350,000) totaling $468,000.

With alternates, this could total over $13.3 million, which led the board to discuss attempting to compress the project.

TIMELINE

“Right now we’re identifying the Wings Park addition to start as soon as the ground thaws,” Perez said. The timeline positions Wings Park construction from April 2021 to March 2022.

High School Construction is slated to take from May 2021 to August 2021.

Construction documents could potentially be released for bid Nov. 30.

“That will also tell us how soon we can lock in those contracts for your approval,” Perez said.

DESIGN

The Oelwein School Board heard a presentation about proposed renovations at Wings Park and the High School from Kate Payne, budget manager with InVision Architecture.

InVision gathered from administration representatives, board members, teachers, building staff and students, according to the presentation. Through a series of meetings and exercises with the constituent groups, supported by IMEG Engineering and the construction management team of Boyd Jones, the architects were able to create a roadmap to make Wings Park Elementary a modern school ready to engage students well into the 21st Century.

At the Oelwein High a number of smaller projects were identified and will be developed based on a balance of cost and priority.

“The bulk of our time was spent looking at Wings Park Elementary because we got a message from all of you saying that’s where we want to focus,” Payne said.

Teaching has changed from a lecturing format to small group work and breakout sessions, Payne said. Current classroom sizes don’t support that as well as they could.

“(There were) a lot of requests for daylight,” Payne said, and complaints about the flexible barriers that segment classrooms allowing noise through.

“We heard ... the scheduling between the lunch periods and gym is often difficult, that switch over from lunch to gym.”

After an analysis of building size, the architects determined Wings Park is “notably undersized for the number of students in the building,” Payne said. The presentation referred to averages for the type of building. “We typically see 156 square feet per student, and it is 96 square feet per student.”

The High School is “adequately sized,” Payne said, noting that although it appears oversized in a chart in the presentation, it has many amenities which can throw the number off.

Those surveyed rated amenities. The ones that did best were the outdoor facilities and the recently renovated music room, followed by the art room, which each received three out of five stars.

Then it got to criticism.

“A list of qualities that exist in a modern elementary school but not at Wings Park Elementary was generated,” the document said.

As a part of an early workshop, steering committee and select board members were asked to prioritize these qualities through a voting exercise.

“Overwhelmingly the secure entrance separating the gym and the commons, and access to daylight (for classrooms), were clearly the priority things to be addressed in the building,” Payne said.

Several building schemes were presented and respondents rated them with green dots (good) or red (bad).

“Overwhelmingly nobody felt we should stick to the building the way it is... that it needed to do more,” Payne said. “The overall scheme here that was (rated most) positive,” referencing the pictogram, “was the one that puts an addition on the building for classrooms — so we weren’t clear if it was general use classrooms or kindergarten classrooms since the kindergarten’s not currently in the building — and some way to deal with the commons gym concept.”

This top-rated image would give 140 square feet per student for a 390-student population. This was the most square feet per student of any drawing.

The second-rated image would have brought in a kindergarten addition in lieu of the general classroom addition and added the commons. For a 480-student population, however, it allowed only 114 square feet per student. A similar image that didn’t separate the gym and commons was poorly rated.

“So that’s the baseline of moving forward and planning a solution … for Wings,” she said.

What wasn’t working in the high school included the need for a secure entry, and safety concerns at the science labs.

Ehn told the board the chemical storage in the original build is unsafe.

A lack of acoustic privacy in the front office, guidance and restrooms was also noted, and various special needs accommodations were not ideal.

The Oelwein Community Schools shared the meeting in a Facebook Live post available here. The July 13 Oelwein School Board minutes are here. The presentation is attached to this story.