Builder selected for DHS remodel |

Builder selected for DHS remodel

by Scott Neuffer

For a mere $10 bill, the Douglas County School District has hired New York-based Turner Construction to begin planning the vast remodel of Douglas High School.

The initial pre-construction contract was set at zero, but on Tuesday, legal counsel Rick Hsu advised school board members to set a nominal consideration fee of $10, to be paid out of bond proceeds.

The fee shouldn’t fool anyone, however. The project is a massive undertaking, and Turner Construction, which beat out four applicants in the interview process, must come back before the board with a guaranteed maximum price once construction documents are complete.

The district’s facilities master plan has put the cost of the Douglas High remodel at $23 million.

“I have no hesitations whatsoever that this is the right team to bring forward,” said Superintendent Lisa Noonan. “I think they (Turner Construction) will do the best job for students at the high school.”

The district is still in the process of tweaking educational specifications for the project – matching educational needs with the architecture.

“We want to make sure we take what the curriculum is and then talk about what it means for facilities,” said Ellen Hooper, project manager, SKW+Derickson Architects.

The designers are working under two assumptions: first, that ninth-graders will be moving back to the high school; and, secondly, that the campus will be closed at lunch.

Noonan said the latter assumption won’t necessarily happen, but that the renovation should encompass a closed campus just in case future boards decide it’s best for students.

Presently, the school’s 1,286 students can leave campus at lunch time. About 300 students stay on campus and use food services. Under current plans, the campus would be closed and two lunch periods would serve 500-600 students each. Upperclassmen in good standing would still be able to go off campus.

For the site to sustain incoming freshmen, the high school commons area would have to nearly double in size, from 8,000 square feet to 15,000, Hooper said.

“We need to grow the commons dramatically,” she said.

Another focus will be on the ninth-graders themselves. The present specifications cluster ninth-graders together in all subject areas. In comparison, sophomore, junior and senior classrooms are clustered by subject. Although isolated, freshmen would still be integrated with older students through library activities, elective courses and physical education.

Career and technical education facilities would get a makeover as well.

The Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps, now housed in portables new the soccer field, would get a permanent home with plenty of uniform storage and an air-rifle shooting range. The culinary arts program would see more refrigeration and freezer space, and the agriculture program would plan for a future barn.

Furthermore, flexible CTE labs with water, gas, and electrical systems would enable multiple uses, from fabrication to computer technology.

Trustee Karen Chessell questioned if the specifications were based on any research.

“To me, it’s a compilation of wish lists, but how does it all come together? How do the programs work?” she said. “How is education better at Douglas High School?”

Noonan said the specifications were developed with input from department heads, administrators and teachers, and together serve as a guiding document. In other words, not everything in the design stage may materialize in 2015, when freshmen are expected to move back to the high school.

Priority budgeting may prove especially important as the project unfolds. Construction scheduled for the summers of 2013, 2014 and 2015 will be funded by the continuation bond approved by voters in 2008. But the district has already issued about $20.8 million in bonds for two elementary school renovations, fire alarm replacements at Douglas and Whittell high schools, boiler replacements at seven sites, fan coil replacements at three sites, and materials for rekeying all schools.

The problem is the district can only issue as much in bonds as it can pay back from a 10-cent property tax rate. In February, financial consultants estimated the district might be able to issue an additional $15.5 million in 2012, falling short of the projected $23 million needed for Douglas High.

But the district does have recourse in some real estate assets.

On Tuesday, board members authorized Noonan to move forward listing Kingsbury Middle School for sale. The school closed in 2008 due to low enrollment.

Noonan reported that two separate appraisals, as required by state law, put the value of the property at $2.5 million and $4 million, respectively. The district can list the site for more but not less than the appraised value, and proceeds must be used for capital projects.

“Talking to the appraisers, their advice was to list the higher value, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go higher,” Noonan said.

Current zoning of community facilities limits the use of the property to school and government functions.

“Everybody would love to have it, but nobody has the money,” Noonan said.

The district has other properties as well. When construction of Gardnerville Elementary finishes next summer, the district could sell the historic heritage building, which will no longer be used for classrooms. There is also the district office in Minden.

“It’s not our house to sell,” Noonan said of Kingsbury Middle School. “We are the stewards of the taxpayers.”