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Back to the cutting board

When school district leaders came up with a plan earlier in the fall to construct a new commons building as opposed to renovating the domed Oak Harbor High School Fieldhouse, they hoped to save nearly $5 million in the high school renovation project.

But as estimates become more firm, the prospective savings dwindled. It now looks like the savings will be about half what was hoped for, forcing officials to make another round of cuts in the project financed by a $54 million voter-approved bond.

"In a nutshell, the latest estimate we got was too high," Superintendent Rick Schulte said during Monday's school board meeting.

One place that made the list of tentative cuts was certain fieldhouse facilities, including included expanding the weight room, training room and the NJROTC room in the new building. But this idea quickly found disfavor.

Brian Farmer, a physical education teacher at Oak Harbor High School, was shocked when he heard of the new plans Monday afternoon.

He said the current weight room is very small and the dog leg in the room makes it difficult for teachers to monitor students during class.

"We have, by far, the smallest weight room that I have seen for a 4A school," Farmer said, adding that people have been working to expand the weight room for years.

The school board seemed to favor keeping the weight room expansion and ROTC expansion in the renovation project.

"I really think wee need to include those," said board President David McCool.

School officials estimate it will cost $534,000 to expand the weight room, training room, and ROTC rooms presently located in the fieldhouse.

Greg Stack with NAC Architects, the firm hired by the school district to design the renovation, said several factors contributed to the budget change. He said the scope of the project did increase due to staff and school board suggestions, and the cost savings were originally overstated.

Gary Goltz, construction manager for the Oak Harbor School District, said that constructing the commons building was the right decision. Even with the cost increase the school district still saved more than $2 million.

The school board didn't make any decisions Monday night. Because board members had just received the cost information during the meeting, they wanted time to examine it.

"I feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants," board member Corey Johnson said. He asked for more comprehensive information about the funding choices.

There are several options that could make up the costs. The school district has approximately $1.5 million in the renovations furniture and equipment budget and officials are getting an estimate on how much of that is actually needed for the renovation. Officials could also tap into the market contingency that is in place should few contractors bid on the renovation, which could also drive up prices.

Stack said three general contractors have expressed interest in the project as well as several subcontractors.

However, school board members seemed hesitant to look into that fund.

"The conditions might be getting better, but I'm not going to stake $54 million on it," Johnson said.

The school board will hold a special meeting Thursday, Dec. 20, 5 p.m., at the school district's administration building, 350 S. Oak Harbor St., to further discuss the project.

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