Track costs pose high hurdle

The track next to North Whidbey Middle School is popular with students and health-conscious residents, but years of constant use have taken a toll.

School district officials plan to replace it this summer, but they’ll need more money — or include fewer improvements — than originally planned.

With three months to go before construction starts, escalating prices have nearly doubled the anticipated cost of the project.

What was originally estimated at a $700,000 construction project now looks to be a $1.3 million endeavour.

“We don’t have the budget to do that,” Bruce Worley, operations director for the school district, said at last week’s school board meeting. “We’re in a crunch right now to do a track.”

The cost for just a new track would be approximately $735,000, while including the planned baseball field could add as much as $250,000.

Two factors are driving up project costs — increasing construction prices and adding city-required frontage improvements on part of the property located near North Whidbey Middle School.

Rapidly escalating construction costs have plagued other projects in the area including the county’s new Juvenile Detention Center and a new high school for the Coupeville School District.

In the case of the high school, officials ended up reducing the size of the school in an effort to save on costs. The county borrowed more money for the detention center.

In addition to construction costs, Oak Harbor school officials learned they will have to install curbs, gutters and drainage on part of Izett Street and on Fourth Street from Izett Street to Highway 20.

Worley said he first learned of the required frontage improvements during a recent pre-permit meeting with city officials.

The curbs could add $100,000 to $150,000 to the cost of the project.

The original track replacement plan also called for the installation of an adjacent baseball field, where the old middle school was located.

Project money comes from a bond that voters approved in 1996, which paid for construction of North Whidbey Middle School and renovations at the elementary schools around the district.

In addition to the bond money, Worley said volunteer labor would have helped build part of the baseball field. He is meeting with local builders to try and drum up more support.

School officials and designers will meet and alter the designs to change the scope of the project in hope of reducing its price.

Worley said that, while costs must be cut, the changes have to be done carefully to provide a facility the community can continue to use.

Construction for a replacement field is scheduled to begin in June.

Rick Schulte, district superintendent, said there is still time to resolve the cost issue before the project goes out to bid.

“As for as a timeline goes, we have plenty of latitude there,” he said.

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