Board of Education Starts New Construction Planning

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education wasted no time at its April meeting getting to work on facility construction plans, just a month after voters passed a $39.9 million bond issue.

This month’s meeting was held online over Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic. Trustee Jill Hunt took the lead in the discussion, reviewing a timeline and two contracts already in place.

The first of the two is with project architect TMP Architecture. Hunt said the contract had been sent to its attorney for review and would be sent back for a signature from Superintendent Rusty Stitt soon.

The second contract is with Triangle Construction, the district’s construction manager. Hunt said the contract was slightly different than she is used to working with. Triangle will not do construction work itself. Instead, it will manage subcontractors and act as an advisor to the district. She said this kind of arrangement is common because school administrators aren’t used to managing construction projects.

“I think it’s a really good idea to go this route for a school district, so Rusty and the administrative team and whomever else don’t have to necessarily put eyes on how this wall is being built or other things,” Hunt said. “They certainly can do that and give some feedback, but we’re going to have the experts in construction, Triangle, do that for us.”

Both TMP and Triangle had previously advised the district during the proposal process and had been key in convincing the board to retry the bond proposal unchanged after it failed the first time by 61 votes last November.

Hunt also cited the several committees that have been formed to make decisions. A steering committee with Hunt as the chair will get recommendations from a series of stakeholder committees for each of the five projects.

“What we’re going to ask each of these stakeholder committees to do is to work with the architects,” Hunt said.

Those groups will get input and the architects will design the project, which will then be presented to the steering committee. The steering committee, in turn, will present the ideas to a committee of community members for additional feedback before the steering committee makes a final recommendation to the board for approval of the projects.

The first project being tackled will be a gymnasium for the seventh and eighth grade. Design on that project has already begun and will run through August. Hunt said bidding and construction would begin shortly afterwards.

Additions of seventh and eighth grade classrooms will begin after that. The first design meetings are slated to begin in June with the design finished by November and bidding in December. The hope is for construction to begin in March, 2021 with the project wrapping up by September that year.

Also kicking off in June will be the design of the largest part of the bond proposal, the construction of a new pre-K through sixth grade building. Because of the scale of the project, the design phase is expected to take much longer, until May, 2021. The committee is hoping construction will begin in July, 2021, but it will be the longest part of the bond proposal.

“We should have the building turned over to us, we should be trained on how to run the mechanical systems, we should have our security in place, our infrastructure in place in March of 2023,” Hunt said.

The fourth project will be the track and upgrades to the stadium and tennis courts. That design won’t start until July, 2021 and run through December. Construction will start in March, 2022 with a slated completion date of August 2022.

The district’s final project will be the demolition of the older facilities. Hunt said this plan is still being formulated but current planning leans toward starting that project after Labor Day, 2023, when the construction projects are done and demolition cost may be lower.
Hunt acknowledged there are some risks to this schedule from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously we’ve got some non-essential shutdowns, so we don’t know if and when certain trades are going to be able to work,” Hunt said. “There could be some supply chain issues that could happen for us. Big mechanical systems might not be able to be made; they might have to ship from overseas.”

She’s also concerned about unknowns when it comes to subcontractors, mostly because some of the smaller subcontractors the district may have previously used might go out of business during the pandemic.

“The fewer folks you have bidding, the higher your prices are going to be,” she said.
Board President Jennifer Gottschalk thanked Hunt for her work on the issue and noted they have made some slight adjustments due to the disruptive nature of COVID-19. She said they moved the larger elementary project back slightly hoping that all involved parties can meet in person by June.

“Otherwise we’re going to be forced to meet with Zoom. We cannot put this project on hold,” Gottschalk said.

She said the ideal scenario would allow them to meet and discuss the larger project of the elementary in person. But they will make it work virtually if there is no other option.

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