By Myers Reece, 9-17-12
||Caption: The latest design for Whitefish's new high school. - Courtesy of Steeplechase Development Advisors
WHITEFISH – With a general contractor secured and evolving design plans under consideration, a $19 million rebuild of Whitefish High School is moving forward with a variety of tweaks and new recommendations.
Project planners will present an update on both the design and budget at the district school board’s Oct. 3 meeting. The school board already approved an updated schematic design plan in August. The board also voted to select Langlas and Associates of Bozeman as the project’s construction manager and general contractor.
Voters overwhelmingly passed a $14 million bond in March to go toward a $19 million high school reconstruction project, which will include a combination of new construction and renovation of existing space. Construction is expected to break ground in the spring and wrap up before school starts in 2014.
DLR Group of Seattle and Jackola Engineering and Architecture of Kalispell are the project’s architects, while Steeplechase Development Advisors and Dow’s Custom Construction, both out of Whitefish, were hired as the school district’s representatives. Steeplechase oversaw the multi-year project planning process leading up to the bond.
Bayard Dominick of Steeplechase said last week that the district’s representatives have been working closely in recent weeks with the architects, Langlas, school faculty and school administration in updating design plans to make them more efficient, both for students and in terms of cost.
The $5 million not covered by the school bond is coming from a variety of sources, including several that have already committed: $2.5 million from the city’s tax-increment finance fund, over $1 million in school district TIF funds, a state grant and $25,000 from the Whitefish Community Foundation. The district is also raising $500,000 in private donations for a performance lecture hall.
An oversight committee recommended Langlas and Associates as the general contractor out of six firms and the school board approved the selection with a 5-1 vote in August, noting the firm’s experience with similar school projects. Charlie Abell cast the lone dissenting vote.
Dominick said the process that resulted in Langlas’ selection differed from the traditional bidding process in which a project is put out to bid when it’s ready to go and then given to the lowest bidder.
In this case, all six firms were asked to provide request-for-proposal documents based on their reading of early design plans. The firms included preliminary cost estimates, not bids. The estimates varied from Swank Enterprises’ $14,486,540 to Walker Construction’s $17,758,584. Langlas’ estimate was $17,240,812.
Dominick noted that it’s difficult to directly compare the figures, as some firms included contingencies, fees and other details, while others did not. The price estimates were nonbinding and the actual bidding has yet to occur. Subcontractors will have the opportunity to bid on portions of the project around the first of the year, Dominick said.
An advantage to this type of process, Dominick said, is that the oversight committee and subsequently the school board could get an idea of how the firms were approaching the project and see the thoroughness of their plans before making a decision.
Another advantage, he said, is that the general contractor was hired early and is included in the preconstruction design process, which is particularly important with a project that must move forward in a timely fashion without disrupting classes.
Langlas is currently conducting preconstruction services and then will manage the project after it goes to bid, overseeing subcontractors and carrying the project through construction. The firm has agreed to work at a 3.75 percent fee.
The new schematic design includes relocating the library to the second floor to improve the flow of students, a lodge-like exterior that replaces the previously planned contemporary appearance and 2,254 additional square feet, resulting from increased classroom size and bringing the expected total square footage up to 122,754.
Trustee Pat Jarvi said the board felt the new design was a better fit for Whitefish over the contemporary aesthetics of the previous design. She and Dominick both noted that the increased square footage will put additional strain on finances but noted that project planners are ultimately required to meet the budget.
“We’re happy with the design as it exists right now,” Jarvi said. “A lot of input went into it and we feel that it reflects what we were looking for.”
Project planners are zeroing in on a $14.5 million construction budget, with the rest of the $19 million directed to a variety of areas, including architects, furniture, fixtures, equipment, insurance and more.
“We’re looking at what’s going to improve education in the school versus what looks pretty,” Dominick said. “Our goal is to maximize the value, not just minimize the cost.”
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