The Vermillion School Board began its regular June 10 meeting 30 minutes earlier than usual so that it could hold a public session to share its plan to construct an addition onto Vermillion High School that will house administrative offices and an alternative high school classroom.
“Our school board began looking about a year or so ago at the possibility of moving our administrative center and our alternative school back to the high school,” said Superintendent Damon Alvey. “We started with the thought of someplace on the northern side of our campus at the high school.”
For approximately 35 years, those administrative offices have been located in downtown Vermillion, in a building leased by the school district.
Options were narrowed to two locations which have been the topic of the school board and the district’s building committee for approximately the last nine months.
“That eventually led to us consider ‘Option B’ in our plans which is the site before the theatre at the high school,” the superintendent said, while showing a slide of an architect’s sketch of how that new addition may appear once its finished.
He also showed architect’s sketches of “Option A,” which the school board and the building committee ultimately rejected. This option would have located the addition to the VHS building further to the west, in approximately the location where the high school’s original north entrance is located. Those doorways have not been in use for decades. Students, staff and visitors mainly enter the building on its east side, where a commons and performing arts center was constructed nearly 20 years ago.
One of the selling points of “Option B,” Alvey said, is the secure entrances and exits it provides. Students and visitors would continue using the main entrance on the building’s east side of the high school. A second entrance, which best can be described as an extension of the Thomas H. Craig Performing Arts Center’s northern entrance, which has seldom been used over the years, would be available for administrative staff and alternative high school students with this option.
The new addition will include offices for the superintendent, the school business manager and administrative staff.
It will also include an office for the school resource officer, conference rooms, storage space and a large classroom for alternative school students that currently attend classes in a space leased by the school district in a strip mall on Cherry Street.
“If we go forward with this plan, we would essentially close the administrative center downtown with all of our office space and save the money that’s currently being paid for rent at that location, and we would also close our attendance center on Cherry Street, which would be our alternative school, and place our students back at the high school,” Alvey said.
The school district’s architect from the Sioux Falls firm TSP had planned to attend Monday’s meeting in Vermillion, but was delayed by a project he’s working on in Nebraska. Alvey said the architect’s intentions are to come to each of the board meetings that include the addition on the agenda through the project’s completion so that he can answer questions and meet with the district’s building committee, when necessary.
The superintendent reviewed a preliminary schedule with the board. It includes on-site investigation this month, which have been postponed due to scheduling conflicts. It had also called for a schematic design update by June 10. That, too, has been delayed because of the postponement of the on-site review.
“What we had hoped to have to you tonight is the schematic that shows you the inside drawings and has a pretty solid cost analysis,” Alvey said. “TSP apologizes; they had some scheduling conflicts with some of the people that do that work and they were unable to do that. They will continue to work on that -- they have a target date for our next meeting to have the schematics drawn and have those things available for you to see costs.
“Obviously, that’s what the board of education is most concerned with at this point, making sure it falls within the price that they hoped it would initially, which will probably be about $1.6 million for this option,” he said.
Alvey said it is hoped that this project will generate interest among qualified contractors in the area which will keep the bids competitive.
Under the preliminary schedule, the design documents will be forwarded for review by June 24 and the first two tentative design workshops will be held June 26. On July 8, a design development update is scheduled for review with an updated budget and a second tentative design workshop will be held July 10.
Final design development documents are scheduled to be available for review by Aug. 7, and an update on the project, including a budget update, is planned for Aug. 12.
If all goes as tentatively planned, construction documents will be released for bidding on Aug. 28, bids will be received on Sept. 19 and construction of the project will begin on Sept. 30.
It is projected that the work will be completed in May 2020.
“The other part about this project is working on how we will get all of this done in a safe manner while we have a full year of school going on,” Alvey said. “The good news is the entrance will be one of the last parts that will be completed.”
That will allow a fence to be built to surround much of the construction site.
“Obviously, for the next school year it won’t look very attractive out front, but for the price of progress, I think we can live with having a little bit of construction disarray going on with the end project being this beautiful addition in our district for years and years to come,” the superintendent said.
Alvey said as this process continues and more data involving costs are received by the board, it will have to make a formal decision on whether to continue.
“If at some point we feel this has outgrown our capacity to pay for this, then we will have to reevaluate,” he said. “At this point, the board has no intentions of having to do a bond or any other kind of financing. We do this by self-funding within the district with reserve funds that have been accumulated over time to pay for the project.
“There would not be a need for a referendum or a bond issue for the patrons of Vermillion,” he said. “The school board would already have the funding in place to pay for the project.”
The revenue to pay for the construction would come, he said, from the district’s capital outlay funds, which also finances all of the improvements to other school district buildings.
“This is a capital outlay project with money on hand, having nothing to do with the potential of a future opt-out,” Alvey said.
School board member Jim Peterson noted that district’s building committee has identified several efficiencies that are included with this project.
“By not being located downtown, we have savings there,” he said. “There may be savings on redeployment of personnel down the road because it’s more efficient at the school. It will be more efficient because the alt school will be moved from Cherry Street and we’ll have that in-house.
“I think we’ve been renting downtown since about the early ‘80s and that goes away,” he said, adding that the project would enhance students’ safety.
“We’ve had two rental facilities that we’ve had great success with and have worked well for us over the years,” Alvey said, “but the trend at this point for us is to try to create an atmosphere where we have all of our resources under one roof whenever possible and it makes sense to have our administrative center located where our kids are. It makes sense to have our alternative school where the most resources are at the school.”
The new addition would mean fewer facilities for the district to manage and less travel between buildings, he said. It would also provide opportunities, with more being under one roof, to deploy people to take on other jobs or take on more responsibilities.