Oregon District Prepares to Break Ground on two Projects

The St. Helens School District in Oegon is weeks away from finally breaking ground on two bond-funded construction projects approved by voters in November 2016, pending board approval of contractor bids and building permits.“The exciting thing is we’re only a little over a month away before construction or ground breaking occurs, so that’s pretty cool,” Program Manager David Etchart, a consultant with HEERY International, told the school board at their Jan. 24 meeting.

St. Helens School

Projections for the new Columbia County Education Campus (CCEC) and new middle school estimate that construction will begin in late February, with official ceremonial groundbreaking dates to be determined. Final completion of the $4.8 million CCEC is projected by Feb. 15, 2019, with students expected to begin classes in the new building by Jan. 7. The middle school’s current budget is set at $42.1 million and completion is estimated for late October, with classes to begin there in Sept. 2019. “What we have to do is build this school (CCEC) while the existing school is still being in use for education,” Project Manager and HEERY Consultant Diana Kessler said. The CCEC will be built where the existing track currently stands, which will allow construction on the facility while the middle school is still in session.

Etchart said they expect bids back from three of the five contractors that were pre-screened last summer by Feb. 13. “We originally started with five pre-qualified constructors knowing that we would lose perhaps one or two because of the intense bid climate. Two have declined because they were just awarded work on other projects,” Etchart said.The three companies still in the running are Triplett Wellman Contractors, Robinson Construction Co. and Todd Construction. Superintendent Scot Stockwell has added another board meeting to the agenda on Feb. 23 so that the board can “come together and vote” for the contractor. “It’s pretty much already set with the criteria, it’s going to be the little bid that meets our criteria,” Stockwell said. “It’s really just formality.”The bids will be obtained on the same day as both projects have been combined. Etchart and Stockwell made a point of noting the unprecedented amount of construction activity in the region that could affect incoming bids. Etchart said a value engineering exercise was conducted based on an October estimate that indicated the market was inflating considerably faster than originally thought.

“Our caution is with the bid market being what it is, there’s a possibility that our actual bids might come in higher than our current budget, but we think that’s a fairly low probability and we have some contingencies for that,” Etchart said. “We are really tight, costs are moving up quickly, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. The cool thing is as of February 13 when we get those numbers, the one we select, that’s a firm number. It doesn’t change unless we change the facility, which we will try not to do.”Kessler said architects have met with school staff and administrators and “have worked on what the needs were for the facility and designed to that.” Based on those meetings, the middle school budget now includes additional classrooms, an auxiliary gym, partially covered play areas, and a parent drop-off and pick-up area that is separate from the buses. Etchart said he believes they are past the stage of land use approvals, and are now down to building permits. CCEC permits were applied for in late November and approvals are expected back by the end of January. Permit approvals for the middle school are expected by mid March, but Etchart said there are contingencies in place in case they don’t come in on time. “Diana has got a contingency plan to get us an early grading permit so that if we don’t quite have the building permit for the middle school by the middle of march, we can start work on doing excavation which is the kind of work that the constructor does first anyway,” Etchart said.

The board also briefly touched on planned upgrades to St. Helens High School, but much of that work is predicated on how things go with the middle school and CCEC campuses. “It’s always been sort of the project that would maybe absorb some changes on the first two projects because we want their ground-up, completely new facilities, so we’re not quite sure where we’re going to wind up with the high school,” Etchart said.Stockwell said, with multiple cost estimates and a sizable contingency in place, he sees no reason why they won’t be completed. “We’ve done a lot of work to make sure that we complete both the middle school and the CCEC to our expectations,” Stockwell said. “The promise that we’ve made to our community is to upgrade some safety concerns and update the science classrooms. I’m confident, looking at the numbers, that it’s something that we will be able to do.”

These projects, and their impact on local traffic, are anticipated to end in the fall of 2020.

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