Cutters eye high school remodel project

The renovation of Oak Harbor High School is already a couple of million dollars over budget — and it hasn’t even started yet.

Preliminary estimates show the renovation will cost nearly $54 million, which is $1.99 million more than planned.

“This is a little higher than expected,” architect Greg Stack said during Monday’s school board meeting. He was accompanied by a team of designers and project managers who were on hand to explain why the costs came in so high.

Stack attributed the problem to several factors. Approximately $1 million came from increases in the scope of the project, ranging from additional requests to extra requirements placed on the school district by the city.

He rattled off a laundry list of increases ranging from the culinary arts lab to off-site road improvements.

In addition to the scope increases, the cost of construction materials continues to rise and additional costs associated with the phases of the project helped place the renovation project 3.8 percent over budget.

“It’s a death by a thousand cuts,” said Ralph Rohwer, vice president of Heery International, which is the company the school district hired as the project manager for both the stadium construction and high school renovation projects.

Rohwer equated the problem to a rubber band that had stretched too far. Architects have been working in recent months to ensure every dollar has been stretched to the limit. Now, some reductions have to be made.

“It’s stretched the rubber band as far as it should and you have to pull it back,” Rohwer told the school board.

The Oak Harbor High School modernization is funded by a $54 million voter-approved bond and $19.3 million in state matching money. While the actual renovation costs stand at $54 million, the remainder of the money goes to pay for “soft costs” associated with the project.

School projects around the region have been plagued with cost overruns.

Locally, the costs for Wildcat Memorial Stadium and the new Coupeville High School came in higher than expected. For the stadium, officials reduced the project in scope and tapped into the district’s capital projects fund to pay the excess.

In Coupeville, officials made reductions to the high school and delayed other projects until additional money was available.

The Oak Harbor School Board didn’t make any decisions concerning the renovation project Monday night.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said he had just received the estimates Monday afternoon and he didn’t have a chance to provide options for the school board to consider.

“This time it’s too early to say what the options are,” Schulte said.

The school board will hold a workshop Sept. 11 to discuss options to reduce the cost of the renovation. That meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.

The school board did have several questions about the situation.

Board member Corey Johnson asked why the renovation budget dropped from $54 million to $52 million. That change came from transferring $1.1 million to the stadium project that is used to pay for site improvements and an estimated $800,000 reduction in matching money due to declining enrollment.

Board member Gary Wallin questioned if there was anything hidden in the ground underneath the high school that could increase costs. A similar problem happened with the stadium. A mound of ash had to be removed from underneath the construction site.

Project Manager Mitch Romero said a geotechnical study has been made at the high school, but added the best way to deal with any surprises underneath the school is to have a contingency fund available.

School officials want to have an idea how to reduce the renovation price tag by mid-September so it won’t disrupt the timeline.

Currently the high school renovation is divided up into two phases. The first phase of the renovation project is scheduled to go out to bid in spring 2008 while the second phase is scheduled to go out to bid later that fall.

Schulte said the board may look at making more than $2 million in cuts just in case. He said that if the construction market isn’t good when the renovation goes out to bid, those additional cuts may be needed if construction inflation continues.

“It the market conditions aren’t good, then the costs will be higher,” Schulte said.

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