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School project scaled back

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

The Culpeper County School Board Monday night voted to re-bid the Culpeper High renovation project, this time with fewer frills and some less-expensive materials.

Upon the recommendation of the 17-person renovation oversight committee, the School Board set a Dec. 4 deadline for new bids with the hope that one could be approved at its Dec. 10 meeting.

Last week that oversight committee, chaired by Culpeper developer Joe Daniel, trimmed what members hope will amount to about $2.7 million from the project after initial bids came in $3 million over budget.

Last November, voters approved a $21 million bond referendum to fund renovation of the 43-year-old high school, but after allowing for bond issue costs, architect fees and projected soft costs (like furniture), only about $17 million is available for actual construction.

In October the lowest of five bids was $19.9 million.

That left the school system, which had two halls in the high school stripped down and free of students and was anticipating work to begin that  month, in  limbo.

While it was not literally back to the drawing board, the school system and the oversight committee then had to come up with a way to cut costs by 15 percent as quickly as possible.

The oversight committee did that by eliminating 91 items, most of which had been recommended by Division Superintendent Bobbi Johnson and her staff.

Those changes included eliminating canopies at the front and gym entrances ($210,000) and rain gardens at each of those entrances ($60,000); cheaper classroom doors ($200,000); and less expensive light fixtures ($150,000).

New theater lighting for the auditorium ($200,000) has also been eliminated and changing ceiling tile sizes in halls s to 2- by 4-feet from 2- by 6-feet x6-feet is expected to save another $75,000.

The renovation committee’s recommendation stresses that “the proposed changes will not impact the functionality and useful life of the facility.”

“Dr. Johnson documented her priorities in a letter [to the committee], and these changes are all in line with those priorities,” said Board member George Dasher.

Daniel, who said he was impressed with the way the school system handled the over-budget bid problem, told the School Board, “I believe this process is going to be successful.”

“I hope the contractors will see it your way,” School Board Chairman Bob Houck told Daniel.

Should all bids again come in over budget, the School Board last month gave Johnson the authority to negotiate with bidders and, as Dasher put it, “work the numbers.”

If the renovation budget situation can be resolved (and approved) by the School Board’s Dec. 10 meeting, construction projects manager Hunter Spencer said work could begin as early as the first of the year.

“We’ve got everything ready for them to go,” he said.

The School Board had originally allowed 26 months for the Culpeper High renovation with completion by the start of school in the late summer of 2014.

The fate of that schedule is now up in the air.

Donnie Johnston:

djohnston@freelancestar.com

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