By Sarah Vogelsong
The Madison Elementary School renovation project is being scaled back after the School Board voted Monday night to reject all of the previous contractors’ bids on the project and re-design the plans.
The decision came in the wake of a joint School Board and Board of Supervisors meeting held July 22 at which it was revealed that OWPR, the architecture firm overseeing both the MES and the Caroline High School renovations, had sent out for bid plans that had not been approved by the county Planning Department. At the time, the School Board also announced that the lowest bid it had received for the project was $5.2 million, more than 25 percent higher than the project’s budgeted cost of $4 million.
Caroline Public Schools’ Supervisor of Maintenance Geoffrey Honan reported Monday that the technical review committee for the Madison project had met on July 28 to review the bids and attempt to reduce the project cost. However, said Honan, members of the committee “weren’t able to get that number down to where they felt it was a viable number.”
On July 30, the Capital Improvements Plan Committee met to discuss the technical review committee’s findings and recommended that all bids be rejected and that OWPR re-design portions of the building plan to bring the renovation costs in line with the project’s budget.
Randy Jones, CEO of OWPR, outlined the proposed changes, which reduce the scope of the Madison project and bring the price tag down by almost $1.3 million—“the ballpark that we’re looking for,” he said.
The two largest cost reductions come from reductions in site work and changes to the electrical plans that eliminate additional technology. In the former category, Jones stated that the bus loop would be made smaller and also relocated to open up an area for a storm detention pond, which stores stormwater runoff temporarily. Previously, plans called for an underground stormwater retention pond to handle such runoff—a feature that, according to Jones, would cost $300,000 compared to the detention pond’s $25,000 cost.
“The technical committee and the CIP committee, their goal was to provide as much as possible to the Madison project, and we added some things that we wanted to get pricing on,” said Jones. “Now that we know the pricing, we’re stepping back and going back to the original scope.”
The original scope of the project that the schools will be returning to, in light of cost concerns, identifies as its key goals construction of a new secure entrance with an expanded lobby, an expanded cafeteria, the addition of four new classrooms, and two new computer labs, a new media center, a new paved bus loop, and a re-paved parking lot.
Jones did sound a warning that construction costs have increased by about 5 percent since this time last year.
“That’s something we’re going to be fighting throughout the project,” he said.
Honan and Jones outlined an updated timeline for the project in which it would be re-advertised on Sept. 22, with bids from contractors returning to the School Board on Oct. 23. If all goes to according to plan, the School Board will vote to accept a bid at its Nov. 10 meeting, and the contract will be executed on Dec. 1.
All members of the board voted in favor of rejecting the current bids and asking OWPR to re-design the plans.
Later in the meeting OWPR also provided an update on the proposed electrical and HVAC systems for Caroline High School and presented a new design for the renovations that would reduce costs while staying within the original scope of the project. The revised floor plan would call for the gymnasium addition to be pulled away from the main building by about 30 feet, with a connecting corridor between the two.
“This change alone probably saves $2 million,” said Jones.
Discussion of the HVAC system quickly descended into confusion over numbers and what was and was not included in different plans put forward by OWPR and Trane, an energy services company that presented a plan for these systems at the School Board’s June meeting. Consequently, the board passed a motion to hold further discussion on the HVAC system at a special called meeting to be held Monday, Aug. 11. Four members of the board voted in favor of the motion, with Madison representative Shawn Kelley and Reedy Church representative Mack Wright dissenting.