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Coupeville board deals with inflation

In the next week, Coupeville officials will be making decisions that could downscale the planned high school and other projects within the Coupeville School District.

That’s because construction costs are increasing and officials have to make changes to stay within budget while still meeting the promises made to the community during last May’s bond election.

Currently the new high school is expected to cost nearly $23 million, which is approximately $3 million more than expected.

With the increased costs at the high school, the school district has to find a way to fund the remaining projects outlined in the $22.8 million bond that voters approved.

School officials cited the sharp increase in inflation as a cause for the higher costs for the high school

When estimates for the bond was completed in late 2003, officials calculated a 3 percent inflation rate. In the months that followed, however, that rate climbed to approximately 12 percent.

The district also saw additional costs for the high school that came up during the educational specification process. The community members that participated in the process wanted to see changes that included an additional science classroom.

The Coupeville School Board met in a special meeting Monday evening and directed officials to come up with $1 million to $1.5 million in cuts to the high school. They will consider those orders during a meeting next week.

“It’s going to come to down tweaking every little bit,” said board member Mitchell Howard.

Superintendent Bill Myhr said he wants to give the board a clear, easy to read balance sheet giving an accurate outline of the costs of each proposed project and the money available.

However, one official cautioned that removing too much from the high school could hurt the quality of the facility.

“We need to build a quality high school for this community,” said Gary Goltz, school district construction manager. “If we poor-boy it, then we’ll live with it forever.”

Some attending the Monday meeting were also concerned that the increased costs could affect lower-priority projects.

Two projects that came up during the discussion were the covered play area at the elementary school and the sports facility at Engle Field.

Glenda Merwine, principal at the elementary school, told of concerns that many parents voiced in recent weeks.

“I will tell you that the majority of elementary school parents voted for the bond because of the covered play area,” Merwine said.

Even though a low priority, officials want the Engle Field project complete because it ensures facilities for the baseball, softball and soccer programs.

“I have a hard time displacing any programs when we said we weren’t going to displace any programs,” Myhr said during the meeting. The new high school is slated to be built on the current baseball field and practice field.

The best time for construction on Engle Field would be this spring to be ready in time for the 2006 athletic seasons.

In an interview after the meeting, Myhr said he believed there is still enough money for all projects and there is time to make adjustments.

“In some ways we’re very fortunate because we’re at the beginning,” Myhr said.

Money to deal with increases can come from contingencies in the high-school project, additional matching money from the state, and revenues accrued from bond interest, according to Myhr.

Myhr said that there was a 16 percent contingency put into the high school project to accommodate any unanticipated costs. He is going to see if that contingency will help absorb increases.

While the school district originally expected to receive $900,000 in matching money from the state, it looks like that amount will now be closer to $2 million.

Myhr said the school district is also expecting an additional $250,000 from interest earned on the bonds.

He also pointed out that the school district currently has a healthy fund balance and could use that money for some of the proposed projects. As of October, the school district had a $1.15 million fund balance.

The Coupeville School Board didn’t make any decisions during the Monday evening special board meeting.

They are expected to make a decision next week during another special board meeting. By then they should have more accurate information on the costs of every project, the money available and an idea of possible reductions at the high school.

Goltz said that a decision needs to be made as soon as possible. That’s because inflation is eating up money and design work needs to be done for the district to meet its fall 2007 deadline to complete the high school.

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