School remodel millions under budget

Foreman Dennis Gadbois sets up electrical components on  the new CTE building at Oak Harbor High School. - Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times
Foreman Dennis Gadbois sets up electrical components on the new CTE building at Oak Harbor High School.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times

Several projects from the school district's "wish list" were added to the Oak Harbor High School modernization project after the bid came in nearly $3.7 million under budget.

At Monday's school board meeting, directors approved $39 million for the second phase of the project, which includes renovation of the A and B wings and construction of a building that will house the cafeteria, classrooms and auditorium.

The chosen contractor is Edmonds-based Spee West Construction, which presented the lowest bid of four competing companies.

The other three bids came in at $40.1 million, $41.9 million and $46.4 million.

"After years of planning, it all came down to the financial analysis of four general contractors. In recent years, contractors have been bidding high or not bidding at all because of an abundance of work available. With just one or two bids, large construction jobs like this one were going at a very high price," Superintendent Rick Shulte said in a press release.

At the same time, construction materials were undergoing double-digit inflation. But that has changed with the souring economy.

"I think our timing was good. We planned for the worst, but I think we got the best," Shulte said.

Current construction of the new career and technical building, phase one of the project, cost roughly $7.6 million, for an overall total of $46.6 million.

Last year, the total estimate fluctuated from $52 million to $54 million and was then cut to $50 million by September.

"At one point we thought we were over budget, so now we want to start putting things back," Project Manager Gary Goltz said. "We'll reserve about $2 million for furniture and additional equipment."

Contractors also bid on several "added alternatives" which allows the school district to get additional work done as long as it has the funds to finish the job. Alternatives included replacing the bleachers in the main gymnasium, adding new metal athletic lockers and a roof replacement for the field house. All of the additive bids were accepted and Goltz is already in touch with roofing consultants.

"The consultant said we would get three to five years out of the roof, but we shouldn't leave it undone. It would be terrible to create a new building and suddenly get leaks in the walls," Goltz said.

At the school board meeting, directors discussed the challenge of hiring two different contractors for each phase.

Ebenal Construction was hired for phase one but did not bid for phase two.

Goltz said the company spent six weeks putting together an Excel spreadsheet bid, but 50 minutes before the bid was to be submitted the numbers wouldn't match up.

"It will be daunting," he concluded, "but contractors tend to cooperate overall."

Although Spee West isn't a huge general contractor, Goltz said they have experience with projects of this size. The construction will follow the Washington state sustainable protocol. A daylight control system will automatically dim lights for energy efficient lighting and the company will use recycled steel and sustainable forest wood.

The high school project is being funded through $54 million in voter-approved bonds and an estimated $17.9 in state match.

Goltz said that Spee West is currently finishing another job and will begin construction in Oak Harbor by the first week of October.

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