Archive for Thursday, August 19, 2004

Answers elusive for Mize Middle School

De Soto USD 232 Board considers hard choices to address $6 million construction estimate shortfall

August 19, 2004

De Soto USD 232's Mize Middle School update -- which four weeks ago indicated a shortage of more than $6 million for the planned project -- swelled into full-blown "bond issue reconfiguration" on the Board of Education agenda Monday night.

With up-to-date estimates for early designs soaring millions beyond original projections, something from the $76 million bond issue approved by voters in November 2002 will have to be trimmed or eliminated. Monday's meeting generated about three hours of ideas but no solution.

"This work session generated more questions than answers," said district spokesman Alvie Cater.

However, Cater said, Board members didn't want to make any decisions until they had explored "every nook and cranny" for solutions.

The Board will revisit the topic in September.

The original bond pitch included a new middle school, three elementary schools and improvements to Mill Valley High School, De Soto High School, Monticello Trails Middle School and the district technology center.

Remaining projects could be bid through 2008.

One elementary school, Prairie Ridge, and a 250-student addition to Mill Valley High School are already finished and will be open to students Thursday.

Mize Middle School construction at 83rd Street and Mize Road in Lenexa is planned to begin in January 2006 to be ready for students in August 2007

"Every nook and cranny" revealed culprits and considerations ranging from enrollment projections to educational concepts to construction specifics. Possible complicating factors discussed Monday included the bi-state tax, The Links at Mill Creek and Hurricane Charley.

"We're a dog spinning lots of plates up here," said district operations director Jack Deyoe. "If it were just one problem, it would be a boundary change."

One solution package, recommended for consideration by a design team of district facilities director Denis Johnson, Hollis and Miller architects and J.E. Dunn Construction representatives, included the following:

  • Opening the middle school in August 2007 with an enrollment capacity of 750 instead of 500. Johnson said projections showed students would fill a 500-capacity middle school within two years. A 750-capacity school would allow for growth past 2012. Adding on space later would be more expensive than building for maximum capacity initially, the team said.
  • Omitting one of the planned elementary schools from this bond issue.
  • Moving Mize and Starside elementary school fifth-graders to existing middle schools. This would delay the need for another elementary school until 2009-2010, a date beyond the schedule of the current bond issue, the team said.
  • Redraw-ing boundaries to balance students between Prairie Ridge, Clear Creek and Riverview elementary schools.

Board member reactions were mixed about eliminating an elementary school from the schedule, even though spaces for at least half of those students could be found elsewhere.

Other ideas mentioned in discussion included revamping technology, eliminating athletic fields from the middle school site, downgrading planned elementary schools, foregoing improvements at Monticello Trails and De Soto High School, and eliminating the possibility of a conjoined middle and high school.

About $11.2 million of the original bond issue was slated for technology. Of that, $8.5 million remains allocated for projects but is not yet spent.

Although a new high school is not part of the current bond project, the middle school's present plans make it capable of integrating a conjoined high school when one is needed in the future. Spending more money now on the middle school would save even more construction costs in the long run, because the two schools could share common areas, Johnson said.

The design team met Tuesday morning to begin preparing scenarios of new ideas for Board members.

"We're just going to bring a whole menu, a whole series of options for them at the next meeting," Johnson said.

Options for money-saving also included bidding projects sooner than planned to beat inflation costs that could rise even higher throughout the remaining years of the bond schedule.

Representatives from J.E. Dunn Construction said natural disasters like Hurricane Charley happened somewhere every year but that something closer to home, like Kansas City stadium-building from a bi-state tax, would increase demand and prices for construction companies in the upcoming year.

Deyoe said the Shawnee City Council's recent endorsement of The Links at Mill Creek, a large housing/golf development, could add 500 new single-family homes and 150 townhomes within the district's boundaries, boosting the district's future growth even more.

Students from The Links could start attending district schools in 2007, the year the middle school was slated to open, Deyoe said. That would count for only part of the extraordinary growth trend and further highlighted the need for new classrooms to keep ahead of student influx.

"Things were going to get a little hairy in 2007-2008 and definitely would be overburdening buildings in 2008-2009," he said.

Last month, Johnson reported to the Board that the Mize Middle School project budget was $6 million in excess of estimates from the initial bond project schedule.

When the district outlined the bond issue in 2002, construction costs for a 500-student middle school were estimated at $15.9 million. Once more recent plans were drawn and specifics outlined, estimates confirmed building the school as initially planned would cost $23.2 million.

Construction industry inflation, site development, square footage, mechanical systems and conjoining schools contributed to the cost difference likely to affect other projects to come, Johnson said.

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