Delay in school building project questioned. Frustration felt at school board meeting
The main discussion item on the agenda at the Dec.11 school board meeting was the new building project, or more specifically, the lack of progress in the construction.
The frustration was felt on every level as Scott Sikkink, representing HKG Architects, started the discussion.
“I know the question on everybody’s mind is where’s the progress or why is there a lack of progress, and I’m not here to give you an excuse. I’m here to tell you where it’s at.” He said the intent was to have work underway by the first part of December, which didn’t happen, primarily because the contractors were afraid that with the extremely cold temperatures that were in the minus 20 degree range, it would be “almost impossible” to stay ahead of the fast freeze. He also said the construction company does have the manpower and capability of keeping the project on schedule despite the cold weather delays. Sikkink said that they were trying to get construction equipment started and commented that he had some sympathy for them in that area.
Board members countered that.
“There are people running combines in this weather,” said board member Kay Schmidt. “I don’t really have a lot of sympathy.”
Board member Ryan Lake agreed. “I don’t have sympathy. It’s the middle of December in South Dakota. What do you expect? Fifty degrees every day? Yes, it’s colder than normal. We live in the craziest place in the world for weather. Twenty degrees below is not out of the question.” He went on to say that ground breaking happened in October and two months later nothing has been done except bringing some equipment to the site, which sits there and still nothing happens, adding, “I have no sympathy for you.”
Oct. 21 was the first mobilization date given to the school board.
Board president Matt Cronin said to Sikkink that a written acknowledgement and a detailed timeline of how the project can be completed is needed. The board called special meetings to deal with timing issues because they were told they couldn’t delay a week back in September. “I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but I want it on record,” Cronin said. He stressed the need for a logical approach showing that the contractor has the ability to get the project back on track. He said that seeing equipment move isn’t enough, and months have been lost on a project that was supposedly on a tight timeline. “Now all of a sudden you can sit here and say, ‘Hey, they gotta get on it and it will be fine?’ I don’t know how it will be fine. I don’t know how you’ll stay on the dates. I don’t know how we’ll have a school to open up in August. “
Board member Kevin Geditz pointed out another major concern, which is the scheduled demolition of the existing building. “We are going to be tearing this high school building down at the end of the year,” he said. “If we don’t have this school done, where are we going to have school come August? We say this is going to be done, but if it isn’t, then where do we sit?”
Reasons for the delay were discussed further, and Schmidt said that the issues with the drainage and street that held up part of the project had been addressed with the architect before the drawings were done. “It shouldn’t have happened after the bid was let. And basically Sharpe bid on a project that is different than what they are building for us and that shouldn’t have happened either. It wasn’t like these things weren’t addressed way up front by several board members.”
Sikkink reiterated that the issue is that the contractor needs to start. “He’s afraid he’s not going to get compaction. If he moves in frozen material and it freezes and it’s four feet down, we’ve got problems. He will not get compaction.” He also said they talked about the option of moving in clay rather than gravel this time of year. He said the ground water had come up quite a way since the initial holes were dug.
Board member Brian Robbennolt pointed out that a weatherman is needed in this part of the world as much as a calendar, and that December, January, and February are cold. He asked Sikkink, “Is it possible right now in December to dig through the frost, get the clay, get it moved here, get it packed, without the freeze issue?”
Sikkink said, “At 20 below, no. At zero, yes.”
A lot of “what ifs” were asked. What if the extreme cold temperatures continue? What if they can’t start until after the first of year?
Lake asked, “In your honest opinion, can this get done?”
The question was met with a long pause.
“That’s a no,” said Schmidt.
Sikkink told the board he wouldn’t be there if he didn’t have some confidence in the contractor to get it done, but also said, “Will the weather cooperate and will he (contractor) come through are two big ifs.”
“In the end, it needs to be right,” said Robbennolt.
The consent of the room was, “Exactly.”
It was agreed that there is a huge liability that goes with the soils not being right, and the main issue is the stability of the ground.
Sikkink said that they have worked with this contractor before and they have responded and got the job done. He also said that they are all working to regain their credibility with the school board. He reminded the board that the contractor is a self-performing contractor through the steel frame being erected, which is to the advantage of the project. Cronin raised concern about all the other components needed, including sub contractors, and how all can meet a schedule that has been pushed back by months.
The building is scheduled to be delivered the week of Jan. 6, and work was to get underway immediately. “This can’t go on,” said Sikkink, adding, “We will pull the trigger on this thing.”
The board is working with the city to stay updated on the project, and easements are in place for the streets around the school.
Superintendent Tim Hagedorn recommended to the school board that they agree to bring the preschool into the school system. He thought it was in the best interest of all if the school would basically agree to take over the preschool program, keeping it as it is now and the re-evaluate after a year to see how it is working. There are considerations regarding available space, and the preschool would need to operate under the school policies. Other buildings and options were discussed, and preschool board members expressed their appreciation for the willingness from both boards to work together.
Principal Wendy Smith said that the more kids they can get in preschool, the better off they are when they start school. “That will help us down the road,” she said. The preschool and school work together to make for good transitions for the students, which strengthen both.
There will be further discussion at the next school board meeting.
The lease was agreed upon for $7500 a year for a five year lease, and the new bus barn is located on the east side of the Schlachter Lumber lot. It is scheduled to be completed by mid January.
Tregg Cronin and Jordan Ackerman were approved as volunteer coaches for the wrestling program. They will both need to take the concussion class.
Paul Kellogg gave the board a report from the Associated School Board meeting and updated them on some of the items that will be brought in front of the legislature during the session.
Principal Smith told the board about a mentor award that was presented to Bill Lehman and accepted by his family. She also reported that the color committee for the school had the colors selected and ready for the project.
Superintendent Hagedorn said that they were having some trouble getting busses started in the cold weather, and said one was loaned to the Sully Buttes school when they were having bus trouble while transporting students to an event. There was also discussion about school parking and use of the city park by the tennis courts.
The next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the elementary library. The meetings are open to the public.
The minutes from the meeting are published in the Dec. 19 issue of the News. They are also available online at www.pottercountynews.com and at www.sdpublicnotices.com