New school's cost may swell by $1.8 million

Dimond Park school planners face reducing number of classrooms

Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2004

It may cost $1.8 million more than previously expected to build the Dimond Park high school, according to professional cost estimators. The school's planners may have to reduce the number of classrooms to balance the construction budget, city officials say.

City engineers also are concerned that in Juneau's current bidding climate the low bids may be higher than expected, and they'd like to see the project's scope decreased for that reason as well.

In recent years, low bids were higher than expected for the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School, construction and renovation at Bartlett Regional Hospital, and construction of a federal fisheries center at Point Lena.

"I have a real concern about large Juneau projects and their bidding amounts," said city Engineering Director Roger Healy. He'd like to see the project's scope reduced by $2.8 million, and then add items back in if the low bid allows for it.

The team of city and school district officials who are planning the project are scheduled to meet at noon Tuesday at the downtown fire hall's conference room to discuss the latest cost estimates, which were recently submitted by HMS Inc. of Anchorage and R&M Engineering of Juneau.

The cost to prepare the site for construction, at $5.2 million, was estimated at $600,000 more than an estimate done in September 2003. The building's construction cost, at $40.75 million, was estimated at $1.2 million more than in September 2003.

The project's overall budget is $62.67 million, with the state expected to reimburse 60 percent of the cost.

In a memo Thursday to city and school officials, architect Paul Voelckers of Minch Ritter Voelckers of Juneau attributed the difference in site costs to more student parking required by the Juneau Planning Commission, more fill needed to support the building, and a more accurate estimate of local materials costs.

The increase in building costs is mostly attributable to a rise in steel prices and, to a lesser degree, in other materials, Voelckers said in the memo.

The new cost estimates will force the architects and city engineers to recommend removing some of the construction from the basic bid to what are called additive alternates. The latter are items that will be constructed if the bids for the basic work are low enough to let the city afford other work.

Architects and city officials may recommend that one of the two regular classroom wings and the commercial kitchen be built as shells but not be completed for use, city engineer Healy said. Completing those areas, at a cost of $2.8 million, would be additive alternates of the highest priority.

Each wing has 12 regular classrooms. The specialty rooms, such as science labs and art rooms, wouldn't be affected by the plan. The school's capacity would decline from about 1,070 students to 800 students, Healy said.

"I think the picture's not dismal and we might have to do some adjusting," said Juneau School Board President Mary Becker. "I don't think the budget is in a dismal enough state that we'd have to do both of those items."

She said the school's planners may consider using contingency funds to cover the added costs or simply going out to bid as planned and see what bids are received.

It's not certain when the project will go to bid. If voters turn down a May 25 ballot initiative that would block the high school, the construction work could be put out to bid in July. Under that plan, the school could be ready for students in late October 2006.

The cost estimates were based on that schedule, but city officials have talked about starting construction in 2005. In that case, the project's costs could rise $800,000 to $1.2 million from inflation, said architect Rich Ritter.

Former City Manager Dave Palmer, who helped organize the initiative to block the Dimond Park high school, said the public has yet to see the total price tag of the school, including for road improvements at the site.

"This project started out at $49.9 million, then escalated to over $62 million; now, estimates show the cost exceeding even those amounts," he said.

"Aside from the voter-approved bond funding, the Assembly is also using sales tax funds to cover the new high school project costs, and they will need to appropriate much more before the project is completed," he said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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