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$240,000 library project splits school board
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DARLINGTON – The main topic for the Darlington School Board of Education’s special meeting on Tuesday, May 30, got pretty heated as the board looked at the bids that had come in for the current project involving the tech ed. and library.
Todd Bushmaker from Hoffman, Planning, Design & Construction, Inc., explained the bids that were considered from three construction companies that bid significantly higher numbers for the library project than were estimated in March. Bids were considered from Tricon General Construction from Dubuque, Iowa, Portzen Construction, Inc., also from Dubuque, Iowa and Epic Construction from Kieler. Hoffman recommended the board go with Portzen Construction, Inc. with a total project number of $372,500. The library project was bid at $177,000, which was much higher than the $35,000 estimated in March.
Bushmaker refreshed the board through the conceptual plans that were created in February and March. The district knew they wanted to spend at least $500,000 on the total project and a conceptual plan was created with very little detail. In March, Bushmaker sat down with McKinstry to see what they would be taking care of in their Energy Efficiency part of the project. Bushmaker went forward with designing the rest of the library project by trying to create a well-utilized space to meet the district’s needs. Bushmaker admitted that between March and May, Hoffman should have come to the district and had another budgeting exercise to make sure they were budgeting enough for certain items. They had decided to add in more detailed ceilings, another collaboration room, replaced existing doors, a sink and nicer flooring. With a few other big items such as additional drywall soffits and painting and the general construction and design fees, the total difference was about $125,000.
The contractor gave Bushmaker some examples of what could be used to cut costs such as hold off on doing the vestibule, which would save the district about $5,000, take out one of the collaboration rooms, $10,000; remove sinks, $8,500; having the district do more of the demolition, between $3,000-$6,000; and having a simpler ceiling.
Kori Hemming, the new Library/Media Specialists, informed the board that things in the library will be changing and plans have been put into place.
“Most of the teachers at the high school have gone to one hundred percent Google Chromebook classroom and not using paper and pencil anymore. Teaching in education is not like what it was in your time. I would like to do programs to have kids come in September to look at new books, March Madness books with brackets or even start a book club,” Hemming explained.
Hemming stated the use of the library would be drastically different from how it is used now. She is concerned about getting the furniture into the library on time and having everything ready.
Darlington School Board president Aaron Wolfe said that the board should start out by deciding what amount they would like to invest in the library area with Hoffman and McKinstry. The total amount plus the amount of the furniture is at about $250,000. The stacks have already been purchased at $13,000, not $30,000 like was previously stated in the last school board article, but with that addition, the total library project would total close to $260,000.
Matt Wilson said that he was one hundred percent in support of everything they approved up to the $150,000, but not the $250,000. “I would like to see some thing’s that we can cut or redesign.”
 “There are already people in the community now that are upset that we are spending $150,000 and now if we are going to spend $250,000 and have to go to referendum, I’m concerned that is going to be an issue,” Nick Zuberbuhler added.
Judy Huntington asked if people understand that this library was built back in the 1960s when the school was built. Zuberbuhler stated they probably do but they don’t want to have to spend the money.
“Trying to educate kids in the 21st century in a 1960s library, we are trying to move on with the Chromebooks and the library just isn’t working. I feel we need to spend the money but trim some costs. This is an investment into the future,” Huntington said.
The board asked how much a less elaborate ceiling would save the school and Bushmaker estimated about $10,000-$15,000. The ceiling in the plan consists of exposed structural elements like “clouds” with edge treatments, drywall soffits and it all compliments the flooring and lighting aspects, making the space more dynamic.
“I don’t think you can cut enough out to get down to $150,000 and still have the functionality we want it to have. We need to get to a number that we can all get behind,” Wolfe suggested again.
Wolfe reiterated that this money would not increase the tax levy. It is money that is spent out of the districts budget and out of the fund balance. The district has a healthy fund balance that allows them to do this. It is a one-time cost and hasn’t invested any money in the library since the building was built.
“Do I have to drive an Escalade to learn? Because that is what this is, an Escalade. I’m not saying I’m against education but we are buying a Cadillac,” Matt Crist stated.
District Administrator Denise Wellnitz stated that much of the furniture and flooring is not high end but mid-level grade furniture.
Wilson said he was comfortable with $150,000. “To me we need to figure out what to do with $150,000.”
“If we are going to do it, let’s do it right. I’d rather see it costs more than cut corners like they did in [DEMS] and we have been trying to upgrade it ever since,” Huntington said.
“The last meeting we were talking about this we were at $160,000 and now we are at $260,000. $100,000 difference? At $260,000, it’s not going to happen. I guarantee that nine out of ten people will not be happy,” Joe Schilling stated.
Crist was in agreement stating that he felt as if they are going to disappoint a majority of the people. That majority is what passes the next referendum.
“Imagine if that estimate in March was $250,000, would it still be an issue now? The issue I have is that Hoffman swung and missed at that first estimate. To have that kind of change really puts the project in jeopardy and that is disappointing. If they came with that originally, I could have gotten behind it,” Wolfe proposed.
“I have talked to a lot of people and presented it at $150,000 to $160,000 and had to really talk them into that and I think they would be okay with something like that. People are slow to accept that. Our referendum passed by six votes. I know we need an upgrade but we started at a number and totally missed that,” Schilling said.
“This is something that every student will use. The library is an extension of the classrooms,” Joe Riechers pointed out.
Wolfe wanted to clear up a misconception that was brought up that the library is not being used. Crist said that the teachers he had spoken to said this library project was a waste of money. Wellnitz said about 100 to 120 students are using the library at different times during the day.
“It is not very functional now compared to what we are proposing but if we keep pushing this misconception that is not being used, that is just wrong,” Wolfe stated.
Zuberbuhler asked where this extra $100,000 is coming from. Wolfe said it was coming from Fund 10.
Darlington High School Principal Aaron Lancaster added that students go to the library for any number of reasons but it is being used. He stated that with Hemming, it will be used much more efficiently and effectively than it has been. This proposed library would benefit the students. He felt that if they made the project for $150,000 that they would be strapped with what to put in the room.
Bob Hermanson added that from experience of being at several schools as part of State Superintendent Advisory, this project is “not an Escalade” for what is proposed. “$250,000 is a very small price for what this space will be doing for us in the future.”
Wolfe reminded the board that with these two projects together, library and tech ed., they had talked about spending about $500,000 and they are not spending any more money than initially thought.
“I don’t think we can do it for $150,000 and have something that looks completed or functional. If we are at that number, we might as well put all the stuff we just tore out back in. At what point is it that we just do it right and spend the $250,000 and have it done with,” Wolfe suggested.
Riechers made a motion to spend $240,000 on the library project with Portzen Construction. That amount includes some amount for furniture but not the stacks because they have already been purchased. Huntington seconded the motion. With a roll call vote, the motion passed 5-4, with Crist, Schilling, Wilson and Zuberbuhler voting against.
The board then approved the tech ed. project at $192,000 with Portzen Construction unanimously.
Other Business
The Darlington School Board of Education also approved:
-facility requests from the Touchdown Club to use the high school practice field, concession stand and bathrooms for an elementary/middle school Skills Camp on July 19 and 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and to use the high school football field, concessions stand and bathrooms for an Alex Erickson Camp on June 28 and 29 from 4:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
-Dirty Ducts Cleaning for a bid of $23,990 for Asbestos Abatement.
In previous school board stories, when the board was discussing redoing the gym floor, it was meant that they were refinishing the floor, as in recoating it with another layer of epoxy, not replacing the floor completely.