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LP-A cuts nearly $3 million from school plan

Lake Park-Audubon residents may get a chance to vote on a no-frills school project in late November or early December.

Rather than place the same plan on the ballot again, the LP-A School Board is considering whittling it down from $26.7 million to $23.8 million.

The proposal, rejected twice by voters, most recently in May by fewer than 100 votes, calls for a new high school in Lake Park and a combination of new construction and renovation at the elementary school in Audubon.

The board is considering shaving about $2.9 million off the building bond referendum through a combination of omitting amenities and downgrading materials in high-traffic areas.

By foregoing a new track/football complex at the high school site, for example, the district could save $380,000.

By omitting "light remodeling" planned for the gymnasium/locker room area in Audubon, it could save $554,000, according to a cost reduction study put together by Zerr Berg Architects.

It could save another $200,000 by going with gravel parking lots instead of paved lots at both sites.

Another $185,000 would be shaved from the project cost at the high school and $100,000 from the elementary school by using painted concrete blocks instead of burnished blocks in high-traffic areas like corridors and commons areas.

Likewise, $130,000 would be saved in Lake Park and $75,000 in Audubon by using vinyl composition tile instead of Terrazzo tile in high-traffic areas.

The less expensive material will require more maintenance and have a shorter product life.

Another $70,000 would be cut in Lake Park and $60,000 in Audubon by using ballasted roofs rather than fully-adhered roofs.

Ballasted roofs feature a loose rubber-like exterior over loosely laid insulation material held down with gravel, as opposed to the same material fastened down tightly, and in the past were more prone to shrinking, causing problems around the edges.

But the Audubon building has had one for 30 years and workers have been able to mend those problems.

The budget for trees and landscaping would be cut, saving $50,000 at the high school site and $15,000 in Audubon. The district would have to come up with donated plants and labor to offset the loss.

By installing emergency generators instead of full generators, the district would shave another $270,000 off the high school cost and $225,000 off the elementary school project.

Emergency generators would provide bare-bones power for fire alarms, exit signs, a sprinkler system, and power to certain key areas like sump pumps, freezers, and critical computer systems.

Full generation would provide full power to the building, allowing it to continue operating during power outages and even to serve as a community shelter in an emergency.

"It's very common these days for schools to have full generation," said architect Tim Zerr.

Board member Dale Binde spoke in favor of full generation, saying it could help draw community support for the project.

But others on the board saw it as a relatively easy place to cut, since it didn't directly impact educational services -- which is their primary focus.

"Educational spaces are not compromised," said Board Chairwoman Vicky Grondahl. "You did a good job of coming up with the list (of cuts)," she told Zerr.

"Three million (dollars), that's a heck of a savings," said Board Member Rick Ellsworth.

The project could have been pared down by another $830,000, but none of the board members could bear to cut plans for geo-thermal heating and cooling at both schools.

Such projects generally pay for themselves in seven years, Zerr said, so the district would pay dearly over the lives of the schools by cutting that money up-front.

"If you leave it in, you're leaving your options open," said Steve Gehrtz, construction manager with Gehrtz Construction Services of Fargo. "If we find out it can't be done (at the Audubon site, since geo-thermal requires a lot of space), then use the money to pay off the debt -- you're not out anything."

The 5 percent contingency reserve was left in the project budget. Board members had earlier discussed cutting that to lower the bond amount.

Board member Lori Bartunek did not attend the meeting, but made it clear earlier that she supports the project that was defeated May 8.

"She doesn't believe that several million dollars in cuts will make a difference (to 'no' voters)" Hogie said.

"We could do what I'd like to do all along and have two questions on the ballot," Grondahl said. One would be for the full amount needed to fund the May 8 proposal and the other would be the no-frills version discussed by the board Tuesday.

The rest of the board appeared to agree with the two-question idea, with the exception of Jeff Swetland.

"I'd like to build a school, I just don't think we should come right back at them," he said. "They're going to get (mad) at us. For the people who vote 'no,' $2 million or $3 million isn't enough for them to vote 'yes.'"

Earlier in the meeting, Swetland called on the board to submit a repairs-only option to the state department of education and get its rejection in writing. It has been given only verbally up to now.

That would be an expensive procedure and would indicate the board seriously believes that's a viable option, which it does not, Grondahl said.

"I'm not going to make a $600,000 gesture under any circumstance," agreed Ellsworth.

Swetland also wanted the board to discuss what it would do if a building bond referendum is held this year and fails again.

"I don't think you go into an election (emphasizing) what you are going to do if it fails," Grondahl said.

Later in the two-hour meeting, the board decided against the option of building a new school for grades 4-12 or 5-12.

"I don't think there's enough savings to go with it," Grondahl said. Educators are finding success in other areas by eliminating middle schools and extending elementary schools up through eighth grade, she noted. "This would take us in the opposite direction," she said.

Because of timelines dictated by the need for state approval and public notice, any vote on facilities this year will likely be held in late November or early December, Hogie said.

The board took no official action, other than to set its next facilities meeting for 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Audubon school media center.