School district begins planning construction of new classrooms
Indian River School District officials expect the experience of a construction firm will be worth the expense. As the district prepares to embark on an $11 million construction project to add 38 new classrooms in the next few years, board members voted Feb. 26 to use a construction management firm instead of hiring a district employee to manage the projects.
Patrick Miller, IRSD chief financial officer, said the district might pay an average of 9 to 11 percent of the construction costs to the firm.
In an $11 million project, board Vice-President Rodney Layfield estimated that a company might cost $900,000 to $1 million, significantly higher than the $400,000 cost for a district employee, who might be a local resident, to oversee the project.
“We should look at talent, not geographic location,” Miller cautioned, adding that the district would still face additional employment costs for a staff member.
In the past, the district has used individuals and companies to manage projects, and they may also use both.
When Board Member Donald Hattier asked at Tuesday’s meeting if there are benefits to using a management firm, Miller said such companies have the “wherewithal to bring people to the table.” There is no difficulty in getting workers in a sluggish economy, but in past lucrative markets, IRSD was at the mercy of bidders and workers’ time schedules, he explained.
Plus, if the project “goes south,” Miller added, it’s easier to litigate, because a firm brings some funding to the table.
Board Member Shaun Fink asked about the risk of “change-order” costs, for additional fees or changes to the design, which Miller said is a risk in any project: “You don’t know what is in a building until you break into it.”
It seems few locals are very experienced with school and state construction projects, Hattier said. He said he felt an outside firm would bring experience to the project. The new high schools built in the district in recent years were company-managed, which was a “good, not perfect experience,” he said, but when IR tried to build themselves in the past, they risked losing that one central employee.
Board Member Nina Lou Bunting asked if the IRSD would use the same construction firm as before, due to a good history.
“No, we are just trying to determine which [route] to pursue,” Miller said. “Some companies have approached us to ascertain [our plans], but we have made no commitments.”
Miller noted that the district used several companies, plus district employees, for the high schools and renovations projects in the early 2000s.
“I don’t feel qualified to vote until experts can give me a little more information,” Bunting said.
John M. Eckrich, supervisor of transportation and of buildings and grounds for the district, was invited to speak, and he agreed that involving a management firm is a “good idea” because of the company’s experience.
Fink said he viewed paying extra money as a type of insurance, for quality or if other matters arise, such as construction-related injury.
“I appreciate the debate. I’m learning as we go,” Layfield said. “I just hate to be nickel-and-dimed by a larger entity.”
Construction management companies must still submit bids to IRSD and be awarded the contract. Some management costs were already incorporated into IR’s funding request, and costs would be spread over the several years of work.
All board members approved a construction management company, except Layfield, who voted against the motion.
In other Indian River School District news:
• The board unanimously voted to approve full-day kindergarten at Southern Delaware School of the Arts.
• The board recognized students for excellence in sports, scholarship and music. Community members Allison Burris Castellanos, Joe McCarron and Kevin Andrade were also recognized for helping “get out the vote” in the Hispanic community for the recent referendum. Joey Spicer got an “Above and Beyond” award for preventing a young boy from running into the road when a car illegally passed his school bus.
• The board unanimously approved installation of security cameras and secure lobby entrances at district buildings, to improve school safety. These measures — in addition to adding swipe cards and buzzers at school entrances — are estimated to cost around $750,000. At this time, the district’s Minor Cap funds cannot cover the entire sum, in addition to regular Minor Cap expenses. The board agreed to implement the new safety plans immediately, requesting that the district seek ways to cut the budget before dipping into contingency funds, if possible.
Indian River High School and three other district schools have already completed comprehensive school safety plans, leading the state, Layfield said. All district schools may have plans completed by summer.
• Student Christopher Smith received unanimous approval to build new bicycle racks at Selbyville Middle and Phillip C. Showell Elementary schools, for his Eagle Scout project.
• Transportation costs are expected to increase from around $7.1 million to $7.5 million in the next fiscal year. The State pays 90 percent of costs, so IRSD would pay around $75,000 of local funds. Miller said he does not believe the State will provide for additional routes, so more runs for existing routes are expected. That cost includes full-day kindergarten.
• Irrigation work at Sussex Central High School’s softball and baseball fields was delayed, so the Buildings & Grounds Committee reported that they believe the contractor will be unable to complete the project by the start of the spring season on March 1.
• The board viewed a presentation on the Spanish immersion kindergarten class at John M. Clayton Elementary School, which is preparing to expand in September.
The next Indian River Board of Education meeting will be Tuesday, March 26, at 7 p.m. at Indian River High School.