District details homestretch at Indian River

The new Indian River High School is almost, nearly, practically complete.
Work has taken longer than expected, and has cost more than originally anticipated. However, according to Indian River School District (IRSD) personnel, there’s a simple explanation — the project has grown over time.

Or, to look at it another way, the Indian River School District (IRSD) hasn’t decreased the size of the building to offset additional budget approvals.

“If you look at what the project was when the school board initially approved it, yes, it is a bigger project,” said IRSD’s Patrick Miller (director of business and finance).

“We don’t normally allocate any additional money,” Miller continued. “We usually just make the building smaller.

“However, if parts we feel are needed get ‘value engineered,’ we can add additional monies to the project,” he said.

After encountering some major budgetary hurdles at the outset (2001), the district re-bid the Indian River High project in 2002.

At that time, according to Miller, the School Board approved $24.3 million to fund the construction of the new school.

As of late last year, it had grown to an estimated $28.8 million. Miller and Brad Cowen (EDiS construction management) agreed the final price tag should remain in that ballpark, as the project is now winding down.

So, where did the additional $4.5 million come from, and where did it go?

In 2003, district voters authorized the transfer of an additional $2.5 million from “surplus debt service” funds, to pay for athletic fields.

According to IRSD’s Greg Weer (building and grounds supervisor), $1.25 million of that went toward the fields at Indian River High.

Other big budget extras included (1) the wellness center, (2) roadway between the new and old high schools (3) a match for additional state funding to defray market pressures, (4) sod versus seed and (5) additional brick fascia, Miller pointed out.

Typical of large construction projects, there have been numerous change orders as well. However, as Miller pointed out, the district built some flexibility into the original budget, with $1.5 million in contingency funds.

To date, he said the School Board had approved $487,000 in change orders ($218,000 of that for sewer impact fees).

Weer attributed much of the other costs to projects that had “fallen into the cracks” when the district split up contracts, and work that had been “missed on a blueprint” at budget time.

The School Board has also rejected $14,500 in change orders, and presently has another $63,900 to consider, according to Miller.

Weer anticipated a few more change orders, both positive and negative, as the project winds down. He said he expected there would be contingency funds left over, and that money would return to the budgetary “pots” from whence it came.

Several months behind schedule, and $4.5 million larger than originally budgeted, Miller and Weer nevertheless pointed out positives at the Indian River High School project.

For instance, although the district had to buy the 160-acre parcel at the prevailing market rate, Miller said they’d been lucky to purchase when they did. The value of the property has increased more than five-fold since then.

Weer said the project had gone much more smoothly than Sussex Central High.

“The biggest difference between the two was, we didn’t have to cut ties with a prime contractor like we did up there,” he pointed out. “That’s the major factor that has kept this project on track.”

The School Board had originally planned to open the school in January, but waved off in November 2004.

Cowen had expressed confidence in the feasibility of a January move at the time, but on March 29 said, “I think that was prudent.”

The school still hasn’t received the State Fire Marshal’s Office final approval, pending a few revisions to the readout panel, he said.

The readouts have been simplified now, Cowen said, and any staff member should be able to locate possible fires if the need arises.

He expected final approval by the first week in April.

“There are still some change orders to take care of, but that should close out the project,” Cowen said. “It’s a beautiful school. Parents, teachers, students — everybody’s going to love it.”