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RCS board hears good news from contractor

BY SHARON BARDONNER - sbardonner@ftimes.com

Mike Witteveen, president and chief operating officer of Tecton Construction Management, provided the Rossville Consolidated Schools board members with an enthusiastic overview of the bids so far recommended for Phase I of the district’s $20 million renovation.

Witteveen addressed the board at their first meeting in 2018 held Tuesday evening at the Administration Building.

The Tecton COO said overall the bid packages came in 3.4 percent under the amount estimated for the first phase of what will be either a two- or three-phase project.

Hitting that target is not a matter of luck but rather a multi-step process, he said, crediting Superintendent Dr. Jim Hanna for repeatedly fine-tuning the project criteria to stay within the budget.

But Hanna turned the spotlight on the stakeholders who participated in the multiple discussions, forums and surveys that yielded the 10 point priority list of projects most needing to be done. 

“It all started with the strategic plan and having parents and students involved,” he said. “I just kept going back to those top 10 things.”

Hanna also noted all decisions have been founded on the idea that everything being done is focused on education first.

The process started with the 10 priority upgrades and rough floorplan sketches that were later honed based on their logistics and practicality, Witteveen explained.

“We then look at the specifics, such as the square footage, and the cost of what has to be included to see how much we’re spending per square foot,” he said.

From there, the construction management team developed a conceptual estimate and worked to strike a balance between the district’s pocketbook and its desires to determine what tradeoffs would have to be made, Witteveen continued.

Rough cuts are made early in the process and then detailed information is provided to the architects so the design work can begin.

“For instance, we might specify that there will be brick on the front of the building but not on the back due to budget considerations,” he detailed.

“With a lot of stakeholders, it’s not uncommon for the scope to creep,” he said. “About three months ago, we had a redirection meeting when that happened, when the creep got out of line.”

Hanna was instrumental in bringing the scope back within budget, said Witteveen.

“Most people think a project starts with architects and engineers,” he added. “Nope, it doesn’t.”

For example, the new HVAC system is one Tecton Project Manager Kyle Kennell expected to cost $25 per square foot, well beyond the Phase I budget. 

“That would have put us at about $4.4 million against the $3 million budgeted for HVAC,” Witteveen said.

But based on field inspections, the Tecton construction managers felt it would be the best system for RCS, so Witteveen estimated the HVAC at $20 per square foot, believing a bidder could meet that price.

“That got us to $3.5 million. But the cost in the actual bid is $16.50 per square foot, which puts us right at $2.9 total,” he said. 

He also added that Tecton includes detailed work descriptions in its bid packages to give subcontractors a better idea of the overal project. “It’s so they don’t put fat in their bids and it makes bidders more comfortable. The information also gets people excited and interested in the project.

“We have a really, really good palette of contractors,” he said. 

The number of stages that will be needed to complete the renovation depends on how quickly the corporation can reduce its total debt load in order to issue bonds for the next phase. Hanna explained that the district would prefer to do the project in only two stages to save the cost of a third bond issuance.

Bonds for the first phase are expected to be issued later this month, and site work is expected to begin by spring break, he said.