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Whitefish High School Reconstruction on Budget and on Schedule
Revised cost estimates meet budget; taxpayers save $1 million in bond financing
Whitefish High School. | file photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Buoyed by reduced cost estimates and more than $1 million in bond finance savings, the Whitefish High School reconstruction project is proceeding on budget toward an anticipated spring groundbreaking for the building’s foundation.

Voters approved $14 million in general obligation bonds in March to finance the high school project, after which the district split the bonds into two series – a 2012 series issued in June totaling $10 million and a 2013 series for the remaining $4 million.

Earlier this month, the Whitefish School District completed financing with D.A. Davidson & Co. for the $4 million. Combined with final figures from the $10 million portion, the district said taxpayers will pay almost $1.3 million less in interest costs than originally estimated before the March bond election.

Whitefish school officials also said they have saved $700,000 from refinancing outstanding 2003 and 2004 elementary district bonds with D.A. Davidson.

Costs for the high school project itself have also been lowered from previous projections. In November, the Whitefish School Board approved new cost estimates that put the plan back within its $19 million budget. Original post-bond cost projections exceeded the budget by $1.3 million, but the team heading up the project found ways to lower the price tag to $135 per square foot, $14 lower than the previous estimate.

Langlas & Associates, the project’s construction manager and general contractor, will develop another round of cost estimates in February. The project will be divided into two bid packages to ensure it stays on schedule, according to a release from the project team, which includes DLR Group, Jackola Engineering & Architecture, Steeplechase Development Advisors and Langlas & Associates.

The first bid package will include site and foundation work. It will be submitted to the city for permit review in January, with groundbreaking on the foundation anticipated to begin in late March or early April.

The remainder of the project will go to bid in a second package in May, followed by construction beginning on the building. Faculty and students are scheduled to move into their new school in August 2014.

The $5 million not covered by the $14 million bond is coming from a variety of sources, including $2.5 million from the city’s tax-increment finance fund and over $1 million in school district TIF funds.

To achieve the lower cost estimates, the project team collaborated with an oversight and budget committee and school representatives in a “value-engineering process.” School representatives included faculty and administrators, while community members also participated.

The goal of the value-engineering process was to carefully examine each detail of the project – from interior finishes to building materials to mechanical and electrical systems – to identify areas where cost savings could be achieved.

Plans now also call for removing some elements of the project from the base bid and including them as “additive alternates,” which would only be completed “if and when funding becomes available,” according to the project team’s release.

The district is seeking additional funds to allow for the inclusion of as many of the alternatives as possible. Those alternatives include “finishing the multi-use lecture performance space, completing the locker-room remodel, adding a media laboratory as well as a computer science software lab, and installing new kitchen equipment in the cafeteria.”

Several factors caused the original estimates to exceed the budget, the project team said. Firstly, it was determined that additional work would be necessary to prepare the site for construction because of the soil’s condition.

Secondly, the conceptual plan called for 285 parking spaces but city code states that gymnasium seating capacity determines parking, which added nearly 100 more parking spaces.

Lastly, based on a review that included school representatives and community members, the decision was made to increase many of the classrooms’ size by 70 to 80 feet “in order to meet the project goals of flexibility for 21st century teaching and learning.”
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