Tongue River Elementary project put on hold; bids too high

SHERIDAN — The development of the new Tongue River Elementary school was halted Tuesday night at the Sheridan County School District 1 Board of Trustees meeting after an update from Superintendent Marty Kobza led the board to reject all construction bids received to date.

The school was to begin development this summer and the project was scheduled to be complete by November 2015 to relocate students from the current TRE building, which requires significant roof repairs.

“Everything shows that roof is going to fail long before the kids are out of there,” SCSD1 Business Manager Jeremy Smith said. “If the roof needs to be addressed it has to be addressed whether the building is empty or full and now it’s going to be full so hopefully that will bump us up on their priority list.”

The rejection became necessary after all bids for construction services came in more than $3 million in excess of the amount budgeted by the Wyoming Legislature.

The School Facilities Commission had been working with architects on the building which came as a protype previously built in Cody and Buffalo.

A process of value engineering had been completed more than a dozen times, meaning architects out of Idaho employed by the state had gone through every design aspect and eliminated costs wherever possible.

After plans were complete, formal bids for construction were requested and four bids were received, each coming in over $15 million in total cost.

The building was expected to cost approximately $230 per square foot and the bids were around $280.

“When we talked today in the culminating meeting it was determined that many others are coming in significantly over budget as well because the market is flooded,” Kobza said Tuesday at the board meeting. “There is construction going on everywhere and it’s the availability of the workforce; they just don’t have them so they’re bidding things high.”

Kobza went on to explain that since the School Facilities Commission does not have the authority to authorize an additional $3 million in spending they have asked the district to take a couple of steps before they approach the Legislature with a supplemental budget request.

First, they would like the building to again be value engineered to see if there are any other costs that can be cut.

Secondly, they have asked to the district to wait until the fall and then rebid the project during the slower construction season.

If after those steps are taken the bids still come in above the approved budget, the School Facilities Commission may consider a supplemental budget request.

“If this new approach gets approved we’re looking at a fall 2016 move-in,” Kobza said. “Our hands our pretty much tied at this point.”

A significant amount of outside infrastructure work needs to be completed that was not part of the bid package of the elementary school and Kobza plans to ask if they may move forward with those processes this fall to have them complete prior to breaking ground on the school.

The district must work with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to realign the intersection in front of the district’s bus barn, among other road changes and enhancements, and will also work with Montana-Dakota Utilities to run utility lines through the property and move another line currently in place.

Kobza remains positive that the project is only delayed and not canceled.

“The fact that we’ve used a prototype and value added this thing as much as we have, it’s hard to argue with this project,” he said.

Nevertheless, the news Tuesday was hard for many to hear and board Chairman Johann Nield vocalized the shared disappointment saying, “We thought for sure it would be a slam dunk and it wasn’t, so here we go again.”

One piece of more uplifting news was shared during the board member reports portion of the meeting as Trustee Karen Walters reported the Tongue River Valley Joint Powers Board had reached their public funding goal to receive a donation match from the county to bring a natural gas pipeline to the valley.

“It seems this thing is finally going to become a reality after a lot of blood, sweat and tears of a lot of people,” Smith added.

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