By Tyler Shoberg
There was only one way to describe the construction bids received for Liberty Middle School: super.
"This is great news...those are some super bids," member Karen Nitzkorski said Monday during a meeting of the West Fargo School Board.
Indeed, if all goes as planned, construction costs for the district's new middle school should fall comfortably below estimates, despite some unforeseen hiccups linked to poor soil composition at the building site.
Zerr Berg Architects estimated a construction cost of more than $29 million, including contingencies, which was nearly $500,000 more than anticipated by the preliminary budget estimates used by long-range facility task force.
But when the bids came in, officials were pleasantly surprised by the results.
The lowest base bid, with proposed alternates, was approximately $26.3 million by Gast Construction. With a $565,000 contingency, this is roughly $2 million less than the estimate and $1.7 million less than the original budget.
Also awarded bids were Northern Plains Mechanical, Grotberg Electric, and Hockenberg Equipment for kitchen supplies.
And because of this uncharacteristically pleasant spring, officials estimate construction crews could break ground as early as May 2.
The only caveat will be the ground, itself.
West Fargo Public Schools business manager Mark Lemer said that, because of Liberty's unique two- and three-story design, settlement of the structure is currently the biggest concern to architects.
Tim Zerr, principal architect at Zerr Berg Architects, said the soil where Liberty Middle School is planned to be erected is not as desirable as the soil on the south end of the property; the current location of Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center.
Because of the building design, "the potential is there for differential settlement," Zerr said. "A lot of work is going in under that three-story wing."
Lemer estimates that the soil issues represent an additional $400,000 in costs. Even so, because of the bids, outlook on the final price tag us promising.
Because of the low bids, the district was able to add a smorgasbord of alternates to the construction.
One improvement includes changing the planned riveted athletic lockers to welded lockers, an upgrade that would help hinder the "significant amount of abuse" those elements face in other schools, Lemer said.
The gym will get a $130,000 expansion, thus allowing the addition of a removable wall that would effectively split the gym into three parts, and help with noise.
Parking lots and driving lanes will be paved with more-expensive and more-durable concrete instead of asphalt at a cost of approximately $345,000.
And, to top it all off, a $9,000 building sign displaying the name of Liberty Middle School will be installed out front.
"Can I just say, thank you for that?" board member Kay Kiefer said. "I was on the PTA for Cheney Middle School, and we tried for a long time to get a sign out front. I'm glad Liberty will have that."
Gast Construction was used in the building of Cheney Middle School, which should be good news for the school district.
"Gast Construction built this building, of the same size, and in a similarly aggressive timeline," Lemer said. "We're definitely optimistic."
Also Monday, the board approved an increase of fees for the district's drivers' education program.
"We want this program to pay for itself...to break even," Lemer said.
To begin to bridge the gap between revenues and expenditures for the course, program fees will increase $20 per year for the next three years. That computes to program fees of $165 for 2012, $185 for 2013 and $205 for 2014.
The fee increase will both help alleviate the budget shortfall, as well as better align the district with other area entities that offer drivers' education programs.