Jump ahead or fall back?

School district considers its options for elementary construction schedule

By Sarah Pridgeon


(Illustration courtesy Sandstrom Architecture) Site rendering of the new Sundance Elementary facility.
(Illustration courtesy Sandstrom Architecture)
Site rendering of the new Sundance Elementary facility.

The Crook County School District is still considering whether to put a hold on the new Sundance Elementary building or to continue with the project as planned. A third option also presented itself during the 35 percent design review last Thursday: to speed the process up.

As requested by the School Facilities Department (SFD), the district is debating whether to wait a while before issuing the construction bid. When funding from the Legislature becomes available in July, Sundance will be one of many projects leaping out of the starting gate.

As the conversation progressed, it became clear that there is another option available. Instead of delaying or pushing ahead with the current schedule, the district could break ground sooner.

To open the discussion, Taner Norton, Regional Project Manager for SFD, suggested that the issue should be addressed while the architects were present. The architects, however, felt that they were not yet in a position to make a recommendation.

“I do think it’s very risky to delay the project because all the indicators within the industry that we’ve seen say half a percent increase per month over the next two years for material costs, and labor costs kind of ride along with that,” said Stephen Sandstrom, Principal Architect for Sandstrom Architecture.

“That being said, what we will try to get a handle on…is whether there is some type of microeconomic issue going on in this little region of Wyoming that would better facilitate a delay.”
A difference in labor cost would be necessary to offset the extra material costs, he explained.

“We really want to delve into it a bit better before we feel comfortable giving you a recommendation.”

On the other side of the debate, Sandstrom mentioned that January and February are the best months to bid because contractors are “hungry and looking for work.” Facilities Manager Tom Necklason commented that a delay might have positive impacts because the contractors he has spoken with have projects ongoing until this time next year, when they will be actively looking for new ones.

“Also, if we go to bid in July or August, we’re going to be a lot like Moorcroft. About the time that they want to get started on the concrete, they’re going to get into the cold weather,” he added.

“If they start work in March, they can come in and get going and pretty much have the building up and closed in before the next winter hits.”

Although Sandstrom agreed that there was validity to this argument, Project Manager Curtis Livingston pointed out that the timing of the bid is important.

“When it comes down to it, we want to get the most economical number,” he said, explaining that research is required to work out when this would likely be achieved.

“It’s a little like rolling a dice – either way, you win some and you lose some. We need to get a better handle on all these factors, because they all come into this discussion.”

Principal Brian Hartwig questioned whether it would be possible to put the project out to bid but reject the bids if they came back too high. Sandstrom explained that this is legally allowable, but very unpopular with contractors.

He suggested asking for a commitment from the SFD that there will be some leeway with the budget if the district agrees to delay. If the bid is delayed from July until December, he said, the district should find out if the department will allocate the additional five percent in material costs.

“You can’t track labor because that fluctuates like crazy and I think what they’re worried about is that the market will be saturated,” he noted.

“We’ve got be confident that the savings in labor and workforce availability will offset the increase that we know is happening with materials.”

Livingston suggested that there’s a possibility the district would be asked to pare the project down to save costs if it chose to delay and then received high bids.

“Now you’re down that road a little further and you have to start next May, and I’d sure hate to see that happen,” he said.

To mitigate that scenario, he suggested being aggressive with line item costs now, which will hopefully return better numbers on bid day.

Meeting attendees agreed that there are many individual factors with the potential to affect the project. Trustee Dena Mills noted that even the elections in October could have an impact on prices, while Livingston reminded everyone that, with so many projects coming online, there is likely to be less funding available for unanticipated costs.

“I understand that you guys need to take as long as you think to analyze, but what you tell us is going to be somewhat subjective,” said Trustee Ken Rathbun to the architects.

“But if that’s the best we’ve got, that’s the best we’ve got.”

Sandstrom explained that an estimate with relative certainty is possible, taking into account the known factors, but that there is no way to account for every potential scenario. The Board of Trustees, meanwhile, has not expressed much desire to agree to the postponement.

“What we’re really hashing over is that the board needs to decide whether it wants to put anchors in the ground and let this drag,” Chairman Tracy Jones told the architects.

“I haven’t talked to anybody who has the flavor in their mouth to delay anything. If you guys have the flavor to delay it a little bit, you’d better be ready to talk the board into it.”

Pearson agreed that she would prefer to see the schedule accelerated, while Rathbun supported Jones’s view.

“Short of some information to change my mind, I’m not holding out for delaying. That’s my personal view, especially given the fact that the material price escalation is an objective thing,” said Rathbun.

“Those don’t turn around and come back down.”

Pearson asked the architects whether there is anything to stop the project from moving more quickly so that the contractors can break ground sooner.

“Why can’t we start earlier?” she asked.

A flurry of answers revealed that it would in fact be possible for the project to go to bid earlier than scheduled, despite the funding not becoming available until July. It was noted that, as long as the wording says that the project is “pending availability of funds,” the bid could be issued in June.

Livingston explained that, to create wiggle room in the schedule, the architects could compress the design schedule by removing the 60 and 95 percent formal reviews, both of which involve a two-week period of downtime while the SFD and district review the plans.

Although this option does not delay the project as requested by the SFD, it does still address their timing concern.

“We’re still trying to get out of a place where there’s going to be a glut of bids,” said Rathbun.

The board is expected to discuss the issue further at a work session on the second Monday of April and make a decision at the next regular board meeting. William Panos, Director of the School Facilities Department, has been invited to attend the work session and has tentatively accepted, said Superintendent Byron Stutzman.


Elementary school reaches next milestone


Architects, engineers and electricians convened with representatives from the Crook County School District last week for the 35 percent design review of the new Sundance Elementary building.

The review is a formal element of the overall design process. Sandstrom Architecture provided updates on the project and how concerns and changes have been addressed along the way, as well as listening to feedback from the School Facilities Department.

Alterations were suggested for the layout of the gymnasium, for example, to remove a staircase alongside the music room that doubles as a stage to create extra storage space. The position of the kitchen and lunch room may be slightly changed to accommodate extra exit doors, so as not to overwhelm the front vestibule if an event is held in the gym after hours.

Fewer computer stations may be placed in the lab to make it easier for an instructor to move between them. Discussion was also held regarding the width of the bus and parent drop-off loops, both of which are currently at 32 feet to allow the buses to pass one another but may impact safety by adding extra travel distance for pedestrians.

The design review followed an open meeting for parents and stakeholders the night before, during which a suggestion was made that the art room be swapped with the classroom to its left. This, commented Trustee Josie Pearson, is a more feasible location for upper grade students and, said architect Stephen Sandstrom, is a simple change to make.

The new elementary building will hold 272 students within its 46,960 square feet and has a current expected completion date of December 2015. It has been designed with a secure entry and administration suites located on the exterior of the building.

All classrooms have been designed to absorb abundant natural daylight and the overall building will be efficient, easy to maintain, durable, and sustainable while featuring state-of-the-art technology. The school will also include a competition-sized gymnasium and a flexible teaching and learning environment, say the architects.