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School project estimate stays within referendum amount

When asked if each of the Superior school district's referendum projects is on budget, Gary Niemi couldn't give a yes or no answer.

"That's like you calling me up to say, 'Do all the kids at the high school have lunch money this morning?'" the district buildings and grounds director said. "There are a whole lot of moving parts and you have no idea."

Regardless, said Kraus-Anderson senior construction manager Patrick Gallagher, the students will all get lunch.

"We are not committed to a building that exceeds the budget," he said.

The $92.5 million that voters approved in April of 2016 covers a number of projects. Only 15 percent of them are complete, Niemi said.

Surprises can still pop up at construction sites that change how much they will cost. Asbestos abatement at Superior High School, for example, has gone "above and beyond what we knew about," according to Gallagher. They were expecting asbestos in floor tiles and pipe joints, but found it in unexpected spots like block filler paint on some walls and bad soils off the technical education wing.

On the other hand, Gallagher said they are working value-added engineering concepts into the mix to reduce costs. The new three-story Superior High School addition will rest on close to 200 gravel geo piers instead of more expensive pilings. Niemi said the electrical contractor will use lighter, less expensive aluminum instead of copper for the feeder lines. There have been changes to a few of the finishing and ceiling options, as well.

"We're trying to build in a cushion for the unknowns," Niemi said.

He cautioned that these are early days. The district is only four months into construction on building projects that are expected to take two and three years to complete.

Cooper is expected to be complete in the fall of 2018. Superior High School is expected to be complete in 2019.

Gallagher broke current cost estimates down into construction costs and total district costs. According to Niemi, the non-construction portion includes technology, furnishings, equipment, asbestos abatement and, for the high school project, softball field and tennis courts.

The estimated construction cost for the Superior High School project was $58 million, with a total cost to the district of $64 million.

Construction costs for the new two-story Cooper Elementary School were estimated at $22 million, with the total cost to the district at $24.5 million.

A batch of smaller projects — new roofs at Great Lakes and Bryant schools, new parking lots at Lake Superior and Four Corners schools, and security upgrades at all district schools — have been completed. They came in at $2.9 million in construction costs and $4 million in total costs.

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