Archive for Thursday, June 23, 2005

School project approved

Mize Middle School to cost $19.8 million

June 23, 2005

Despite discussion Monday about tax implications and a "no" vote from Don Clark, the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education approved construction bids for Mize Middle School.

Denis Johnson, district facilities director, said he was happy with what bidders returned, which kept the cost to build the school $1.4 million below its $21.3 million budget even after eight alternates -- building aspects contingent on affordability -- were added back in.

"The bids were really good," Johnson said. "We are very pleased with the way things totaled out."

Johnson said the building would be ready for students in August 2007 but that construction was scheduled to finish in April, leaving a welcome buffer of several months against unforeseen delays and allowing plenty of time for finishing details, like installing furniture.

Alternates the Board was prepared to give up if they proved too costly once bids came in included installing a higher-quality and presumably longer-lasting roof type instead of a less-costly one, installing a higher-quality tile in exploratory classrooms, adding more brick to the building's exterior and installing underground irrigation for the school's practice fields.

Representatives from J.E. Dunn Construction, the project's main contractor, also attended Monday's meeting.

After a motion by Sandy Thierer and a second by Jim Thomas, the Board voted 6-1 to accept the Mize bids. Citing several problems that drew Board discussion, Clark voted against bidding.

Clark said he wasn't convinced it was necessary to start on the project so soon because he didn't think the district had the tax base to pay for it. He suggested considering expanding Monticello Trails Middle School before starting a new building.

"Are we ready?" Clark said. "Do we need this up and operational by 2007?"

District operations director Jack Deyoe said projections indicated that Monticello Trails would be overcrowded by the 2007-2008 school year.

Without a new middle school, the only way to alleviate it would be to extend the Lexington Trails Middle School attendance boundary even deeper into Shawnee, where patrons already are unhappy about commuting to De Soto for school.

Mize and Starside elementary schools are expected to reach their capacities around that time, too, Deyoe said. When planning and designing Mize Middle School, Board members discussed the possibility of moving fifth-graders from overcrowded schools to the new middle school if need be.

Clark said moving fifth-graders was a big change and he was uncomfortable building and counting on that possibility before discussing it further.

Johnson said inflation would grow construction costs, possibly up to $800,000, if the project were held off another year. Also, he said, an increasing number of construction projects in the Kansas City metro area would likely make contractors' pricing less competitive.

Deyoe said he thought the risks of running out of space and incurring higher construction costs would be worse than bidding now and leaving a new school empty for one year on the chance that enrollment turned out substantially lower than predicted.

"The worst-case scenario would be to mothball it for one year," Deyoe said.

Thomas said risking overcrowding would be counter intuitive to the district's strategic plan, which prioritizes keeping enrollment below 750 in middle schools. The district must be fiscally responsible, Thomas said, but educational opportunities for students -- namely maintaining a good student-to-teacher ratio -- should be its primary concern.

"I'm afraid if we wait too long, we're really going to jeopardize the futures of the kids," he said.

Although he voted for approving the middle school's bid, Bill Waye agreed with Clark that taxes were of grave concern. He said he didn't think the Mize project would be "the straw that breaks the camel's back" but that future bond projects might.

"We are going to be the talk of the state because of our taxes," Waye said.

Waye expressed frustration that Johnson County was encouraging residential growth in droves in the De Soto district, heightening the need for new schools, but that commercial growth -- what the district needs to help its tax base -- didn't seem to be keeping up.

The middle school will be built with funds from the district's $76 million bond issue passed in November 2002.

The Board reconfigured its bond schedule last fall after initial schematic designs indicated Mize Middle School would cost about $6 million more than estimated. In addition to smaller changes, planners pared down designs, and the Board removed a third planned elementary school from the bond issue to bring it back within the budget.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.