Missoula County Public Schools trustees on Tuesday continued the process of finalizing what could be $158 million-worth of facilities work across the district.
The full board received the recommendations from the Facilities Steering Committee for nearly $88 million in elementary district projects – including two new schools and an extensive overhaul of another – and $70 million in high school district projects – including a new Willard High School Alternative Program. The process to formulate the recommendations took nearly two years worth of planning that involved more than 350 people.
Trustees, though, have the final say in the timeline for projects and the final costs that will be asked for from voters in November bond measures.
"All of this is under the direction of the trustees," Superintendent Alex Apostle said.
Some trustees asked why the overhaul of Lowell Elementary is not slated for completion until summer 2018 when the building is in dire need of repairs and upgrades.
The planning process for the project that calls for keeping the existing shell with extensive renovations and for expanding the building will take a year to complete and will begin almost immediately if the elementary bond measure is approved, said Nick Salmon, CTA education facility planner.
"And that's the only reason that it falls in the second year of bidding," Salmon said.
Retrofitting and expanding Lowell will cost more than building new Cold Springs and Franklin elementary buildings, which is also recommended. However, the school-level team and community feedback has shown a preference to keep the historic Lowell building, Salmon said.
Doing other projects while Lowell is undergoing design will save the district inflation costs later, he added.
Not included in the recommended project list is a previously discussed K-12 performing arts center that would cost roughly $5.6 million.
Even though the project would be partially paid for with funds from the high school district bond, it would push the elementary district over its bonding capacity, Salmon said.
Salmon added that alternative funding sources, such as selling unused properties, could bankroll the project instead.
Another building that is not slated for work according to the recommendations is the Emma Dickinson Lifelong Learning Center. The building would be used as swing space for other schools to use while extensive work takes place. The plan calls for the center to relocate to another facility under a long-term lease.
The program sees between 10,000 and 12,000 registrants each year, said Monique Fortmann, the center's director.
While Fortmann said she understands the district's need for swing space, she urged trustees to include finding a suitable location for the program in the bond planning process.
"It serves hundreds of students, adults, that are pursuing a variety of skills so it's something that needs to be well thought out," Apostle said, adding that not to plan appropriately could have a negative impact on community support for the bond measures.
Once bonds are sold, the money must be expended within three years, said Pat McHugh, the district's business director.
Hence, bond sales will be staggered to correspond with when different projects take place and interest rates will vary based on the time each set of bonds are issued, he said.
Inflation will impact the dollar amounts on projects as well, Salmon said.
For instance, work to high school facilities in today's dollars amounts to $61.5 million, but due to inflation will cost closer to $70 million.
Inflation, as well as contingency funds, must be accounted for in the bond measure requests, Salmon said.
"Or you'll be short all the way through," he said.
Abatement costs are not accounted for in the cost estimates, he said, adding that those costs are usually not significant enough to majorly impact the budget.
Also included in the costs is an owner's representative who would serve as a project manager throughout the process and be involved in contract negotiations and other oversight.
"I think it would be foolish for us not to include an owner's rep," McHugh said.
Within the recommendations from the committee are flexible concept drawings and the overarching concepts will be followed when design takes place later.
All buildings will have work done to them, including projects to address safety and security issues, technology infrastructure upgrades and deferred maintenance. The process to get to this point has been transparent and collaborative, Apostle said.
"There are no secrets. There are no hidden agendas when it comes to a bond process. Everything's out in the open," Apostle said.
The board and community will be continually updated on progress, he added.
The board will discuss the recommendations further during another work session scheduled on March 24, as well as hear more input from school-level teams.
A final amount for the proposed bond measures will be decided upon after that, with final ballot language formulation scheduled for April.
To view the concept drawings and more detailed recommendations for district facilities, go to mcpsmt.org.