District not obligated to enter into contract

The Fort Calhoun Community Schools (FCCS) Board of Education renewed discussions on construction at the elementary school during its April 8 meeting, which followed last month's special meeting that raised enrollment capacities for kindergarten and second grade.

The school board passed a motion that authorizes Supt. Don Johnson and FCCS administrators to engage BCDM Architects to produce documents detailing what construction — which the district called Phase II — would be done at the elementary school.

The board also gave Johnson the authority to get counsel from a construction manager to market and solicit bids based on the architect documents and enter into construction contracts as long as the cost of the project is under $2 million. The motion doesn't guarantee construction, but will provide the board with the most up-to-date cost on an addition to accommodate a rising student population.

Part of that increase comes from the nearly 60-student incoming kindergarten and second-grade classes. For the 2019-20 school year, FCCS plans to hire a third teacher for each grade and use the computer lab and paraprofessional room as additional classrooms. The district is also looking into partnering with Blair Community Schools for elementary music help.

Board member Kelli Shaner said she felt more confident about future elementary growth after gathering more information since the special meeting in March.

"I felt like I needed more," Shaner said. "I think going forward and looking at the details, seeing the classroom trends, seeing the budget more closely, I feel more comfortable going with Phase II, and we have a plan that we don't have to go to Phase III."

The proposed Phase II construction plan includes four new classrooms and a new bathroom for the upstairs area of the elementary school. Phase III construction could include kindergarten and preschool space as well as a bathroom, but the board does not have plans to move forward with that right now, and is under no obligation to do so in the future.

The proposed area for Phase II construction is on the northwest side of the building, where the school already has foundation for a build and plumbing ready for a bathroom. Since the architect plans may not be completed for several months, and the motion carries a monetary limit, there is no firm date for construction.

School board member Amanda Schrum did not support the motion, saying she was surprised to see the motion on the agenda after the March 25 special meeting. Schrum said, being new to the board as of January, she felt she didn't have enough background information to make an informed decision and that members of the public might feel the same way.

"I'm lost as to what's going on," she said, adding that no one has sat down with her to explain the ins and outs.

School board president Jon Genoways said he understood Schrum's position of not having as much time as other board members to be aware of the information. He said the three proposed construction phases have been discussed by the board over the past several years. He added that the board takes time in the summer to review the entire longterm building process together.

The first construction phase — kitchen, cafeteria and elevator work — through Boyd Jones Construction Company and subcontractors — finished in September 2017.

Fort Calhoun resident Josh Daly, who said he works in construction and was a former estimator for Boyd Jones, urged the board to keep a construction timeline under its agency to support quality control. He suggested FCCS extend the construction timeline one to two months longer than whatever construction company they accept a bid with suggests.

"(Companies) try to do summer slams in three months when it should be five months," Daly said. "It gets done, but I'm going to tell you the quality control — stuff gets skipped."

Daly also suggested the district ask for a list of value engineering options. He said many materials are aesthetically and functionally the same, but cost different prices.

"Things you can't even tell that's different, but it's going to cost you thousands of dollars less," Daly said.

Fort Calhoun resident Ronee Christensen worried about tight community spaces — such as the gym— with more students and loss of curriculum options such as those focused on computer work. She worried a bigger school population might diminish community assemblies, the Thanksgiving dinner and other school community activities that give the district its charm.

"I hope we don't lose our feel," she said.

FCCS plans to adjust the PE schedule for the 2019-20 school year because of the larger kindergarten and second grade classes. PE teacher Tessa Rutledge will no longer have a recess duty and will teach extra sections of PE.

Elementary Principal Drew Wagner said every student will have the same amount of PE time as previous school years and PE class sizes will be similar with extra sections. Wagner also said the move to a mobile laptop lab would provide the same educational opportunities for students as a physical computer lab.

Schrum also questioned what could happen if FCCS sees a student enrollment dip in future school years and classes, such as kindergarten. She questioned having too many teachers or unused spaces.

"Will we have classrooms sitting empty?" She said. "I know you can't predict the future, but these are some of the things I'm wondering about."

Genoways said FCCS could make use of space by making the computer lab a physical room again instead of a classroom if enrollment were to see a dip. He added that the administration has been “great” at using the space the district has.

"Historically, we've used the space," he said.

In regards to the hiring of additional teachers, Genoways said the district would not force three sections of a class should the enrollment not be there. He said the district can use the personnel where the educational need is. This year, FCCS hired an additional third-grade teacher who will move up to fourth grade with the students. A similar set-up could be achieved in the future, Genoways said, or he is confident in administration suggestions.

Further conversation about elementary building expansion will occur in the future. It could take up to two months for BCDM Architects to finish construction documents.

Schrum asked what would happen if the bids for construction came back at $2.5 million dollars.

"This motion would end," Genoways said. "Back to the drawing board."

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