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School board commits to construction

Posted 10/11/16 (Tue)

By Jody Michael
Divide County School Board members declared Thursday their determination to carry out the entirety of their construction plans, though the district’s $9.9 million in financing will not cover the full cost.
At its regular monthly meeting, the board accepted bids for phase two, which encompasses additions and renovations at the elementary school and a new geothermal heating system and a physical education annex in the high school. Work will start right away, representatives from construction manager FCI said.
The board also voted to begin design of the third phase’s classroom additions and office renovations at the high school, in order to seek bids in January.
“I feel very, very strongly that phase three needs to go through,” said Holly Krecklau, member of the board and its construction committee. “The reason behind that is we really need classrooms.”
In reducing the bond measure to $9.9 million last winter after voters first rejected a $20 million request, the district had tabled some of its ambitions, such as building a middle school, and left high school improvements dependent upon how the construction bids come in.
But Divide County has seen only a negligible decrease in student enrollment since then, and with the elementary’s larger class sizes about to start transitioning into the high school building, board members said they are reluctant to abandon their expansion efforts.
“As a committee, we feel like we should go forward with it,” Krecklau said.
Bids for phase two came in below the most recent estimated cost, down to $7.5 million from an expected $9 million.
“We were happy with the results that we got,” Matt Lierz of FCI said. “We’ve gained some ground from where we were.”
But the new overall project total of $13.4 million remains higher than what the district had been planning to spend.
District Superintendent Sherlock Hirning said he would aim to fund the difference through lease revenue bonds, which must be paid back through existing funds, not through a tax increase.
“I believe, financially, we can afford to do that if we want to complete the project as originally intended, even if it’s above $9.9 million,” Hirning said. “It’s not going to require an additional bond referendum or tax levy request. Within those current mill levies, we should be able to afford that.”
“We’ll use our miscellaneous fund, our revenue fund and our building fund,” Board President Pete Fagerbakke said.
Workers can quickly pivot to begin construction of the second phase, as the finishing touches on the elementary building’s new geothermal heating system are almost complete.
Heat was circulating through the elementary school as of Tuesday last week, Robert Boyer of FCI said.
“In two weeks we’ll be done,” Boyer said. “Everything’s coming together.”
Boyer explained that a delay in the drilling of wells for the heat system was largely due to the surprising discovery -- and subsequent removal -- of an old, 10,000-gallon fuel tank buried beneath the playground.
“It was indicated we might find old building foundations,” Boyer said. “We found them.”