The Superior School Board took action Monday, Aug. 12, to ensure that site work continues at the new Cooper Elementary School, 1807 Missouri Ave.

Their authorization to pay roughly $260,000 out of the district’s fund balance to cover additional costs caused by an April 2018 fire at the school was made under extreme protest. The Board also authorized the district’s attorney to take action to recoup or seek reimbursement of those dollars.

In 2016, voters approved a $92.5 million bond referendum to replace Cooper, renovate Superior High School and provide safety upgrades at other district buildings.

The new Cooper school was in its final few months of construction when fire broke out in the gymnasium area April 8, 2018. It flared up again in the roof the following day.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined, according to the Superior Fire Department.

Board members noted that the district did not have possession or ownership of the building at the time of the fire.

The fire added a year onto the construction timeline as the building was cleaned and restored. The insurance policy the district had for the new school project covered other associated costs, but the insurance company denied delay costs for earthwork at the site.

District Administrator Amy Starzecki said despite ongoing negotiations with the insurance company, the claim was repeatedly denied.

The Cooper project was initially bid at $1.9 million, Starzecki said. At the time of the fire, $535,388 remained on the contract. Due to the one-year delay, costs climbed for earthwork, demolition and site service and fees.

Factors that were given for the nearly $260,000 price bump included an increase in union wages, efficiency costs (because their summer 2018 schedule was already booked) and an increase in the cost of asphalt.

A letter dated Aug. 7 was sent to the district by project manager Kraus-Anderson. The board was told that if the delay costs were not paid, work would stop Aug. 14.

“The district does not feel it should be responsible for this delay cost when it was not the party responsible for the delay,” Starzecki said. “However, our ultimate responsibility is to our students, families and community, and we are committed to having a building ready for kids when school starts on Sept. 3.”

Kraus-Anderson has been working on the insurance issue with the district, according to senior project manager Patrick Gallagher.

“With no agreement by the insurance company to pay, the situation became more urgent as the applicable work was being completed,” he said. “This is what drove the timing of the letter.”

Gallagher said the district can continue to explore avenues to cover the delay costs, but contractually Kraus Anderson had to send the letter to be paid for work that was about to be completed.

The additional cost will not be covered by referendum money. Starzecki said those dollars will come from the school’s fund balance.

“Paying out of our fund balance affects our cash flow,” she said. “Going into the next school year, we will have to be strategic about when bills are paid so funds are available.”

Districts which do not maintain healthy fund balances end up engaging in short-term borrowing to make ends meet, Starzecki said, and that comes at a cost.

“We have been fiscally responsible for many decades and have not had to engage in this practice, nor do we plan to,” she said.

Take a look

A ribbon-cutting and open house for the new Cooper Elementary School is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Sept. 3.